Study Reveals How U.K. Doctors' Faith Affects End-of-Life Care

U.K. doctors who are not religious are more likely to take steps to help end a very sick patient's life than doctors who are very religious, according to the findings of a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, surveyed more than 3,700 doctors in the United Kingdom across a wide range of specialties such as neurology, palliative care, and general practice.

Researchers asked doctors about the last patient whom they had worked with who had died. The doctors answered questions about their own religious beliefs and ethnic background, as well as end of life care - did they give continuous deep sedation until death to the last patient who had died? Did they discuss decisions with the patient that would likely shorten the patient's life?

The study found that the strength of a doctor's religious faith is related to the incidence of continuous deep sedation until death, confirming findings of previous research. Researchers also found that a doctor who reported being "very or extremely non-religious" had an increased likelihood of taking these kinds of decisions to end a patient's life.

Furthermore, doctors who said they were very religious were found to be less willing to discuss decisions expected or partly intended to end life. This result corroborates what a 2007 New England Journal of Medicine study found – that more religious doctors are less likely to believe that they should give the patient information about procedures to which the doctors held moral objections.

Other findings from the study: Specialists in care of the elderly were somewhat more likely to be Hindu or Muslim than other doctors; palliative care specialists were somewhat more likely to be Christian, religious and "white" than others; and ethnicity was largely unrelated to rates of reporting ethically controversial decisions.

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