Doctors' religious beliefs strongly influence end-of-life decisions

Aug 25, 2010

Atheist or agnostic doctors are almost twice as willing to take decisions that they think will hasten the end of a very sick patient's life as doctors who are deeply religious, suggests research published online in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

And with a strong faith are less likely to discuss this type of treatment with the patient concerned, the research shows.

The findings are based on a postal survey of more than 8500 UK doctors, spanning a wide range of specialties, which was designed to see what influence religious belief - or lack of it - had on end of life care.

The specialties included those in which end of life decisions would be particularly likely to arise, such as neurology, elderly care, palliative care, and hospital specialties, and general practice.

The doctors were asked about the care of their last patient who died, if relevant - including whether they had provided continuous deep sedation until death and whether they had discussed decisions judged likely to shorten life with the patient - their own religious beliefs, , and their views on assisted dying/euthanasia.

Nearly 4000 doctors responded (42% of the total surveyed), and almost 3000 reported on the care of a patient who had died.

Specialists in the care of the elderly were somewhat more likely to be Hindu or Muslim, while palliative care doctors were somewhat more likely than other doctors to be Christian, white, and agree that they were "religious."

But, overall, white doctors, who comprised the largest ethnic group among the respondents, were the least likely to report strong .

Ethnicity was largely unrelated to rates of reporting ethically controversial decisions, although it was related to support for assisted dying/euthanasia legislation.

Specialty was strongly related to whether a doctor reported having taken decisions, expected or partly intended to, end life. Doctors in hospital specialties were almost 10 times as likely to report this as palliative care specialists.

But irrespective of specialty, doctors who described themselves as "extremely" or "very non-religious" were almost twice as likely to report having taken these kinds of decisions as those with a religious belief.

The most religious doctors were significantly less likely to have discussed end of life care decisions with their patients than other doctors.

These attitudes were reflected in support for assisted dying/euthanasia legislation, with palliative care specialists and those with a strong faith more strongly opposed to it. Asian and white doctors were less opposed to such legislation than doctors from other ethnic groups.

The author concludes that the relationship between doctors' values and their clinical decision making needs to be acknowledged much more than it is at present.

Explore further: New drug sales help boost Novartis Q1 profit (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Using morphine to hasten death is a myth, says doctor

Mar 02, 2007

Using morphine to end a person's life is a myth, argues a senior doctor in a letter to this week's BMJ. It follows the case of Kelly Taylor, a terminally ill woman who went to court earlier this month for the right to be ...

Survey finds many doctors religious

Jun 23, 2005

A University of Chicago survey suggests 76 percent of physicians believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.

Psychiatrists are the least religious of all physicians

Sep 03, 2007

A nationwide survey of the religious beliefs and practices of American physicians has found that the least religious of all medical specialties is psychiatry. Among psychiatrists who have a religion, more than twice as many ...

Recommended for you

Amgen misses 1Q views as higher costs cut profit

Apr 22, 2014

Despite higher sales, biotech drugmaker Amgen's first-quarter profit fell 25 percent as production and research costs rose sharply, while the year-ago quarter enjoyed a tax benefit. The company badly missed ...

Valeant, Ackman make $45.6B Allergan bid

Apr 22, 2014

Valeant Pharmaceuticals and activist investor Bill Ackman have unveiled details of their offer to buy Botox maker Allergan, proposing a cash-and-stock deal that could be worth about $45.6 billion.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Rising role seen for health education specialists

(HealthDay)—A health education specialist can help family practices implement quality improvement projects with limited additional financial resources, according to an article published in the March/April ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...