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Study: Faith Plays Role in End-of-Life Medical Decisions

Study: Faith Plays Role in End-of-Life Medical Decisions

Misti Crane / The Columbus Dispatch

March 17, 2009

Cancer patients who rely on their strong religious faith to cope appear more likely to undergo intensive life-prolonging care before their deaths.

Researchers evaluated 345 patients and categorized them as having a high or low level of positive religious coping based on a 14-item questionnaire. Their study is published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Those with a high level of religious coping were about three times as likely — 11.3 percent compared to 3.6 percent for those with a low level of religious coping — to receive mechanical ventilation, according to the research conducted in Boston and Dallas.

The highly religious were more than three times as likely — 13.6 percent compared to 4.2 percent — to undergo intensive life-prolonging care, including ventilation or resuscitation, during the last week of life.

The lead author of the study said she hopes it will be thought-provoking for doctors and patients and that greater understanding of the role of faith in health care will foster better communication.

“I see every day how patients’ faith plays a role in providing support and strength,” said Dr. Andrea C. Phelps of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“I think a lot of doctors recognize that faith is important in patient’s personal lives, but we don’t think very often about the intersection of their personal faith life with the decisions they’re making with us about care at the end of life.”

Little research has looked into how religion plays into medical decision-making, she said.

The study provides no clear answers and the reasons behind the findings are likely diverse and complex, but Phelps offered some theories.

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    almost 6 years ago


    I almost think the opposite is true those with a strong faith base are more likely to want to go to the other side. IT can be the family not willing to let go. I work in a long term care facilty and it amazes me how DRs are uncomfortable with the topic of death and side step the conversation directly. IT is part of life and as uncomfortable that it is, people know we all die and we should embrace it when it is our time to come.

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    almost 6 years ago


    I am a long term care nurse, I have also worked with hospice, in my experiance people in LTC tend to come in as a pt. and are encouraged to have a HCP and also to sign a DNR. It is not the patient who is the most difficult to educate on the end of life matters it usually is the family and loved ones.... I have experianced that almost all of the elderly pt.s I have had the pleasure of knowing are mostly Catholic and see their deaths as a new beginnig with God. Some just have a fear of the unknown.

    My question is are they afraid that they have not led a good enough life, did they please God during thier life? all stems back to when they grew up. Religion for my generation is different than thiers.

    Also in Cancer victims, alot are younger.. I had a 61 yr. old femaile who did choose to do chemo. and radiation. But when it was time, she knew. She said good bye to her family and was content that this is what God wanted.

    I tend to ramble, sorry, God is a very personal thing to most catholics....... but death is final.

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    almost 6 years ago


    Although these statistics are eye opening, I would have to say that these findings may change if these studies were conducted in a Long Term Care Facility. It has been my experience that most residents were inclined to let life "take it's course" than prolonging life's path to the inevitable final rest. My experience in long term care has been that most residents have faith that usually is individualistic but yet the final underlying belief for the majority is that the final rest is "God's will". Prolonged end of life interventions are usually wishes of the POA either through guilt or just can't let go.

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    Account Removed

    almost 6 years ago

    Great article

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