Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Provocative End of Life Study

An study reported in today's Houston Chronicle found that terminal cancer patients who identified themselves as religious believers sought more aggressive treatment in the last week of life from their doctors than those who did not.

That's not what I would have predicted. I would have thought that those who believe in the providence and grace of God would be less likely to seek this kind of care. But then I don't have experience as a health care provider or minister.

One of the explanations was that because believers hold life to be sacred, they may feel a duty to live as long as possible.

Is that what those of you who provide pastoral care as ministers and chaplains find in your own experience?


Anonymous said...

it would be interesting to know what flavors of Christian the patients were - imho, those who see union with God as the ultimate healing tend to die quiet holy deaths, while those who buy into the Left Behind God who will eventually destroy all tend to fight death.

Gannet Girl said...

SO interesting.

I wonder . . . people with religious faith tend to have religious communities, which perhaps means they have people whom they would consider religious authorities, e.g. pastors, rabbis, etc. with whom they would likely be in conversation about end of life issues, and if the aforesaid pastors, rabbis, etc. share the feeling of the general population that one should fight at all costs -- then I can see it.

Not what I would have predicted either, but Elastigirl may also be on to something.

DennisS said...

Only 345 were studied and it was done in Boston. This really needs to be checked out in other places as well. And the details aren't that outstanding for such a limited study:

"The vast majority of patients, religious or not, did not want heroic measures taken. Still, 11.3 percent of the most religious patients received mechanical ventilation during the last week of life, compared with only 3.6 percent of the least religious."

Boston is largely Roman Catholic. Try this study in the deep South, in middle America, on the West coast, and in the Northland, then see what results...

I would like more info about the faith of the people. There are some who are very nominal Christians. Some are rather works-oriented. Some don't truly believe or act like Christ is actually Lord and Savior.

I more likely to get folks with terminal diagnosis ask how to die rather than how to prolong life.

Songbird said...

My mother, a non-traditional Southern Baptist who resonated with Unity, too, spent the last months of her life asking a lot of questions about what might happen to us after death. She found a way of understanding it that made sense to her, and then she stopped fearing death. Rather than asking for the aggressive medical approaches available to her (surgery, chemo, radiation), she wanted to be at home with my dad, the person she loved most, rather than in the hospital, and when she reached a certain point of incapacity, she just let go. The idea of holding onto life did not come into it; the inevitability of death did, and from that a desire to make the crossing with personal grace and in God's grace. I found that to be deeply faithful.

Gruntled said...

Religious people tend to be enjoy life more and be more grateful to be alive. Perhaps they want more life not so much from duty as pleasure, even within the pain.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments and for sharing your experiences.