Doctors and End-of-Life Decisions

Terminally-ill patients would be well-advised to find out the religious beliefs of their doctor, according to print and online news media reports of research showing the effect of faith on a doctor’s willingness to make ethically controversial decisions that could hasten death and calling for greater acknowledgement of the relationship of doctors’ values with clinical decision-making.

The research was undertaken by Clive Seale (of the Centre for Health Sciences, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry) and published on 25 August in the ‘Online First’ edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics under the title ‘The Role of Doctors’ Religious Faith and Ethnicity in taking Ethically Controversial Decisions during End-of-Life Care’.

The article is based upon a self-completion postal questionnaire sent to UK medical practitioners in Binley’s Database, of whom 3,733 (or 42%) responded during the period November 2007 to April 2008. Of these, 2,923 reported on the care of their last patient who had died.

According to Seale, doctors who described themselves as extremely or very non-religious were almost twice as likely to take decisions that might shorten the life of somebody who was terminally ill as doctors who were deeply religious, while doctors with strong religious convictions were significantly less likely even to have discussed options at the end of life with the patient. No such correlation existed for ethnicity.

Access to the article is available free to subscribers to the journal (or whose institutions subscribe) and by pay-per-view for others. See:

Other publications by Seale based on the same research and touching on religion include: ‘Legalisation of Euthanasia or Physician-Assisted Suicide: Survey of Doctors’ Attitudes’, Palliative Medicine, Vol. 23, 2009, pp. 205-12 and ‘Hastening Death in End-of-Life Care: A Survey of Doctors’, Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 69, 2009, pp. 1659-66.

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One Response to Doctors and End-of-Life Decisions

  1. Pingback: Faith and Death | British Religion in Numbers

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