Spirituality Presents a Paradox in End-of-Life Care

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , May 9, 2013

"What we found is that patients who said they received a high amount of support from those religious communities were less likely to receive hospice care, more likely to receive aggressive medical interventions such as care in the intensive care unit, resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, and were more likely to die in an ICU setting, compared with patients who were not highly supported by their religious communities," Balboni says.

Those more heavily influenced by religious groups were less likely to have a high quality of life in their final days, she says.

A Belief in Miracles
The more they received support from religious congregations, the more likely patients were to fight death through experimental, highly toxic regimens of chemotherapy or surgeries with little chance of success. Apparently, these patients believed that God, acting through doctors, hospitals, and drugs, would miraculously save them, Balboni surmises.

"What the data suggests is that there is a lack of understanding on the part of these religious communities about the medical realities that these patients are facing, [and] that they focus instead on praying for miracles and perseverance through aggressive therapies."

On the other hand, when patients received their spiritual support from hospital chaplains, they received forthright and realistic information bridging the facts of their medical situation with their end-of-life considerations and religious beliefs.

"The chaplain elicits the patients' values and goals, and how they want to spend their remaining time, and gets them to consider weighing the potential benefits and risks of particular therapy," Balboni explains. "The chaplains have one foot in each realm."

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Comments are moderated. Please be patient.

4 comments on "Spirituality Presents a Paradox in End-of-Life Care"

David Dismas (5/14/2013 at 2:16 PM)
Sadly I think that clergy are no more comfortable with death than the rest of the population ... what may appear to be pushing for the miracle may actually be avoiding the obvious at all costs. Fortunately, the hospital and hospice chaplains have [hopefully] worked through their issues with death and are in a better place to help the dying. Alas, I wish there was more outreach by those chaplains to help parish clergy process their issues around death and dying with an end towards better pastoral care.

Rev. Porch (5/10/2013 at 11:36 PM)
It has been my experience as a pastor, that families seeking aggressive care are the same ones who aggressively seek the pastor to be there. Are the researchers making a false assumption about cause and effect? Is there an underlying cause that effects the level of spiritual support and the level of medical care? Does aggressive medical care cause the pastor to show up more often? In my experience the answer is yes. I believe the level of pastor care and medical care are related, but both are the results, not the cause.

Peggy Salvatore (5/9/2013 at 5:11 PM)
This exactly corresponds to an experience I am having right now with my dying uncle. We have a faith-based family, and they are taking extraordinary measures. I found this perplexing, but this explains it.




FREE e-Newsletters Join the Council Subscribe to HL magazine


100 Winners Circle Suite 300
Brentwood, TN 37027


About | Advertise | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Reprints/Permissions | Contact
© HealthLeaders Media 2015 a division of BLR All rights reserved.