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Study finds link between a doctor’s faith and end of life care: The Church of England Newspaper, Sep 10 p 5. September 12, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Health/HIV-AIDS.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A doctor’s religious faith, or lack of faith, influences a patient’s end of life care, a study published in this month’s Journal of Medical Ethics, has concluded.

In a study published on-line Aug 23, Dr. Clive Seale, professor in the Centre for Health Sciences at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, found that self-identified agnostic and atheist physicians were almost twice as likely to take decisions that speed up the dying process as compared to their religious peers.

In a survey taken of over 3700 geriatric, palliative care, intensive care and general practice physicians in the UK, Dr. Seale received 2933 responses from physicians asking about their faith and religious beliefs, ethnicity, and views on assisted dying and euthanasia.  The survey also asked whether they had prescribed ‘terminal sedation’, giving patients a continuous deep sedation until they died, or if they had spoken to their patients about health care decisions judged likely to shorten life.

The results showed that Geriatricians—specialists in the care of the elderly—were more likely to be Hindu or Muslim, while hospice or palliative care physicians were more likely to be white Christians, who responded to questions about faith.  Overall, however, white doctors—the largest ethnic group—were those least likely to report strong religious beliefs.

The survey found strong links between a physician’s specialty and faith and the likelihood of discussing treatments judged likely to end the life of their patients.  Hospital specialists were ten times more likely to discuss life ending treatments than palliative care doctors, while those physicians who described themselves as “extremely” non-religious were twice as likely to have recommended treatments that would end life as compared to their religious counterparts.

The Seale survey also found a link between views on religious faith and support for assisted dying and euthanasia legislation, with palliative care specialists and those with strong religious beliefs the most strongly opposed to such legislation.

While the survey does not predict that all religious and non-religious doctors act in certain ways, Dr. Seale concluded that there was a need to acknowledge the links between a doctor’s religious beliefs and the clinical decisions they make.


1. Clive Simpkins - September 13, 2010

Hi there. In the 3rd paragraph there’s a delightfully Freudian typo reading ‘….prescribe terminal sedition’ 😉 instead of terminal sedation. Not sure if you can or wish to change it?

2. geoconger - September 14, 2010

Well spotted. I’ve corrected the error.

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