Palliative/End of LifeReligion/ Spirituality

Effect of religious faith on decisions by doctor providing end-of-life care

Researchers at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, in the UK compared the relationship between religious faith and controversial decisions during care of dying patients.

First, the details.

  • 2923 UK medical practitioners responded to a survey on the care of their last patient who died.

And, the results.

  • Ethnicity was unrelated to reports of ethically controversial decisions.
  • Physicians who were “extremely” or “very non-religious” were almost twice as likely to make decisions expected or partly intended to end life, compared to doctors with a religious belief.
    • Give continuous deep sedation until death
    • Make decisions they expected or partly intended to end life
    • Discuss these decisions with patients judged to have the capacity to participate in discussions.
  • Doctors with ‘other hospital’ specialties were 10 times more likely to report decisions taken with some intent to end life compared to palliative medicine specialists, regardless of religious faith.

The bottom line?

So, from the perspective of a patient or family member, it’s useful to know that religious doctors who specialize in palliative care are more likely to make care decisions that prolong life — at least in the UK.

The authors concluded, “Whether religious or non-religious, it would seem advisable that doctors become more aware of how broader sets of values, such as those associated with religiosity or a non-religious outlook, may enter into their decision-making in end-of-life care.”

9/23/10 14:16 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, a complementary and alternative medicine website.