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Doctors' Religious Beliefs Can Color Their Care of Terminally Ill
Date:8/26/2010

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors who are atheist or agnostic are almost twice as likely as their religious counterparts to make medical choices that can end a terminally ill patient's life more quickly, a new British study reveals.

"The religious beliefs of British doctors influence how they provide care for dying people," concludes study author Clive Seale, a professor of medical sociology at the Centre for Health Sciences in Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London.

For example, "religious doctors are less likely to report having taken decisions which they expected or partly intended to shorten patients' lives, such as withdrawing life-sustaining treatments," Seale noted. "[And] in the few times they do take such decisions, they are less likely to say they discussed this with the patient."

Seale reports the findings in the Aug. 26 online edition of the Journal of Medical Ethics.

To gain insight into the issue, Seale analyzed nearly 4,000 survey responses regarding end-of-life care and religious beliefs, completed between 2007 and 2008 by working doctors residing in the United Kingdom.

Those polled included representatives from a wide range of fields, including neurologists, general practitioners, public health physicians and specialists in elder care and palliative medicine.

Each doctor was asked to reveal his or her religious background and beliefs, ethnicity, opinions regarding the use of sedation, and stance regarding the ongoing legal debate concerning assisted dying. Each was also asked to discuss their experience with the most recent patient who died while under their care.

Seale found that those doctors who focused on elder care were somewhat more likely to be Asian and to identify as Hindu or Muslim. Those in palliative care were more likely to be white, identify as Christian, an
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