Study: When it comes to end-of-life treatments, doctor’s faith matters

So, those end-of-life conversations we were talking about yesterday? To the list of questions to ask your doctor, you may want to add, “Do you believe in God?”

Doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to take decisions that might shorten the life of somebody who is terminally ill as doctors who are deeply religious – and doctors with strong religious convictions are less likely even to discuss such decisions with the patient, according to Professor Clive Seale, from the centre for health sciences at Barts and the London school of medicine and dentistry.

“If I were a patient facing end of life care, I would want to know what my doctor’s views were on religious matters – whether they are non-religious or religious and whether the doctor felt that would influence them in the kinds of decisions they were looking at,” said Seale.

A patient who wanted their life prolonged at all costs in the event of a terminal illness, or did not want it prolonged, should make sure they had a doctor who was in sympathy with this.

Doctors are influenced by their beliefs, just as other people are, said Seale.

This mindset isn’t all that surprising: If this life is all there is, then minimizing suffering at all costs — to the point of ending it early — can make a certain sense. But that the (non-medical) beliefs of the doctor would affect the treatment of the patient is unnerving, to say the least. 

[H/t Creative Minority Report]

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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