When selecting a doctor, you might want to ask about his or her religious views. Why? The strength of a physician’s feelings of faith can influence the types of treatment they offer to their patients.
A study published online Wednesday afternoon in the Journal of Medical Ethics found that doctors with “stronger religious faith” were less likely to talk with patients about treatment options that could shorten their lives, such as prescribing powerful pain medicines. They were also less likely to keep patients in continuous deep sedation or to support legislation allowing doctor-assisted euthanasia.
The reverse was true for the doctors who described themselves as “very or extremely non-religious.” They were almost twice as likely as religious doctors to report that they had pursued treatments that had the potential to hasten a patient’s death, either intentionally or as a side effect.
The results were based on a survey of 3,733 doctors in the United Kingdom, including 2,923 who said a patient of theirs had died in the previous year.
The findings are in line with previous studies of how religious attitudes affect the way medicine is practiced. Multinational studies have found that non-religious doctors have a greater willingness to prescribe drugs to hasten a patient’s death, and that non-religious neonatologists are more willing to withhold or withdraw care than their religious counterparts.
In the U.S., oncologists who helped patients hasten their deaths tended to be “less spiritual.” Another study documented that doctors who considered themselves religious did not feel obligated to tell patients about treatments or procedures they found morally objectionable, such as abortion or birth control for single women.
Dr. Clive Seale, author of the new study on British doctors, suggested that all doctors disclose their religious views to patients.
-- Karen Kaplan / Los Angeles Times