“The fact that some doctors are not discussing possible options at the end of life with their patients on account of their religious beliefs is deeply troubling”
Following a survey of nearly 4,000 UK doctors, a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics concludes that doctors’ religious beliefs influence end-of-life decision making. Specifically it found that:
- Non religious doctors are twice as willing to take decisions that they think will hasten the end of a very sick patient’s life as opposed to doctors who are deeply religious.
- Doctors with a strong faith are less likely to discuss options that may hasten a patient’s death.
- Palliative care specialists and those with a strong faith are more likely to oppose assisted dying.
The report’s author, Professor Clive Seale, concludes that the relationship between a doctor’s values and their clinical decision making needs to be acknowledged more than it is at present.
Dr Ann McPherson CBE, a patron of Dignity in Dying, commented:
“The conclusions of this research are concerning. It is not always in a dying patient’s best interest to try and prolong their life, but rather to make them as comfortable as possible and to minimise their suffering. Important decisions, on withholding and withdrawing treatment and/or on levels of pain relief, should always where possible be taken in conjunction with the patient, whose views are of paramount importance.
“As typified by recent guidelines from the GMC on end-of-life decision making, there is a growing awareness of the need to put the patient’s wishes at the forefront of end of life care. However, this research indicates there is still some way to go – the fact that some doctors are not discussing possible options at the end of life with their patients on account of their religious beliefs is deeply troubling. Whilst entitled to their beliefs, doctors should not let them come in the way of providing patient centred care at the end of life.”
Notes to editor:
About Dignity in Dying:
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
Dignity in Dying has over 25,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
The British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 found that 92% of non-religious and 71% of religious people support assisted dying. This relates to overall support of 82%.
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