How does religion influence doctors’ end-of-life care?

Concerned about end of life care? Well, you should have a talk with your doctor about his religious beliefs.

A new study suggests that your doctor’s beliefs are likely to have a greater influence on the care you get than any so-called “death panel” or rationing system that many Americans worried about during the health reform debate in Washington.

An English researcher surveyed doctors across the United Kingdom to learn about how their religious faith impacted their care decisions for dying patients. Clive Seale from the Centre for Health Sciences at Queen Mary University of London examined the responses of 2,923 doctors in the UK.

Seale found that doctors who described themselves as atheist or agnostic were two times as willing to hasten the end of a very sick patient’s life as doctors who are deeply religious.  He also found that those with strong religious faith were less likely to discuss this type of treatment with patients.

That was “similar to the finding from a US study, which found more religious doctors to be less likely to feel they should disclose information about procedures to which they object on moral grounds (birth control for adolescents, abortion and ‘terminal sedation’ in dying).”

The Seale study was published online in the BMJ’s Journal of Medical Ethics.

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