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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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