Meeting spiritual and religious needs of dying patients

As dying patients adjust to the irreversible nature of their illness, their needs and focus of care change. Spiritual issues may become a central concern for them, and addressing these issues can be key to relieving suffering. Physicians, unfortunately, have little training in this area and are often uncomfortable discussing spirituality.

Enter bioethicists Roberta and Erich Loewy.

They have issues with the role of the hospital chaplain. In fact, they wonder why hospital chaplains have access to the hospital.

Their concerns include the following.

  • The possibility (horror) that chaplains have an ulterior motive to convert dying people to religion rather than confine themselves to addressing their spiritual needs.
  • That, at this time when the end is near, chaplains are inappropriately intruding in the privacy of the patient’s medical records.
  • That chaplains are not “full-fledged” members of the medical team.

For what it’s worth, prayer is important for most people. In fact, when it’s included in surveys, prayer is the most common CAM therapy.

At the end of life I think it’s most important to consider the needs of the patient and not the abstract musings of two secular bioethisists.

As stated by a couple of physicians who have taken the time to listen to their dying patients, “Understanding a patient’s spiritual core beliefs could greatly facilitate the doctor’s ability to honor the patient’s wishes for end-of-life care. Additionally, bearing witness to a patient’s faith is often a therapeutic act, whether or not the physician [or bioethisist] shares these beliefs.”

3/20/07 23:35 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.