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Physicians’ Religious Views Linked to Care Decisions

Last Updated: August 26, 2010.

Non-religious physicians are more likely than religious physicians to make decisions that could hasten the end of patients' lives, and are also more likely to discuss these types of decisions with patients, according to research published online Aug. 25 in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

THURSDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Non-religious physicians are more likely than religious physicians to make decisions that could hasten the end of patients' lives, and are also more likely to discuss these types of decisions with patients, according to research published online Aug. 25 in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Clive Seale, Ph.D., of the Queen Mary University of London, analyzed data from a survey of 3,733 medical practitioners in the United Kingdom, 2,923 of whom provided information on the care of their last patient who died. The physicians identified themselves as extremely religious (1.5 percent), very religious (11.9 percent), somewhat religious (36.4 percent), neither religious nor non-religious (17.5 percent), somewhat non-religious (11.8 percent), very non-religious (12.0 percent), extremely non-religious (8.7 percent), or can't choose (3.7 percent).

The researcher found that palliative care specialists were somewhat more likely to be Christian, religious, and white, and specialists in elderly care were somewhat more likely to be Muslim or Hindu than other doctors. Non-religious doctors were more likely to make decisions that were anticipated to contribute to end of life. Non-religious doctors were also more likely to give continuous deep sedation until death and to have discussed these decisions with their patients. Doctors in "other hospital" specialties were nearly 10 times as likely as palliative medicine specialists to report making decisions with some intent to end life, regardless of religious faith.

"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," the authors conclude.

The National Council for Palliative Care provided funding for the study.

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