Your doctor’s decision to pull the plug might be connected to his or her religiosity.  Yes, doctor’s belief in God may color their views on ending life.  So says a recent British study that shows nonreligious doctors to be twice as likely as religious ones to make decisions that could end the lives of their terminally ill patients.

The study surveyed more than 3,700 doctors across the UK, of whom 2,923 reported on how they took care of their last terminal patient.  Doctors who described themselves as “extremely” or “very nonreligious” were nearly twice as likely to report having made decisions like providing continuous deep sedation, which could accelerate a patient’s death.  Doctors taking part in the survey ranged from neurologists to family practitioners, with those specializing in elder and palliative care also included.

The author of the study, Dr. Clive Seale, professor at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, concluded that doctors and patients should discuss beliefs in order to best comply with a patient’s end of life wishes.  Whereas “nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients,” Seale also found that doctors who were religious were much less likely to have talked about end of life treatment decisions with their patients.   

Doh!  Looks like neither side is honoring the patient.  Bad doctors, go to your rooms!  No, seriously–probably a good idea to have this discussion upfront, doctors.  Kind of like, “Were gonna cut your penis off, is that okay with you?”  Duuuh!  You’ve got to ask.

In those rare events when patients are unable to communicate their wishes, doctors must not simply rely on their own values, but that they “should take all reasonable steps to maximize the patient’s ability to participate in the decision-making process.”

So here’s my suggestion: Discuss your end of life wishes with your doctor on your first visit.  If you have a doctor now, discuss it at your next appointment, and have them write it down in your chart.  Even better, get your wishes documented in a will or trust.  Don’t leave it to your physician who probably has his own beliefs.  Finding out your doctor’s belief system while getting your last sedation will probably bum your trip out.  Or if you’d rather a little help…a pious position might just stand in the way of your peaceful passing–probably not the way you want to go.  So do the smart thing now–discuss it with your doctor first chance you get.

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