Spirituality Presents a Paradox in End-of-Life Care
In their paper, Balboni and co-authors rhetorically ask why this belief in the potential for "miraculous healing" might result in "more aggressive medical care, when one might rather conclude that it should motivate a belief in divine miracles that do not require medical technologies?
"One possibility is that religious people consider medicine to be a primary means of divine intervention," according to a telephone survey in the Southeast, 80% of whose respondents "endorsed a belief that God acts through physicians to cure illness. Hence, religious congregations may view choosing to withhold medical technologies as curtailing the principal avenue by which divine healing can take place or even taking the trajectory of the person's life out of 'God's hands.' "
Additionally, religious communities, she says, may emphasize "hope found through suffering," which may compel patients to fight their diseases.
Costs Not Quantified
Balboni's paper did not quantify the cost of care for these patients during their last months of life, a defect in the report and a topic in an ongoing research project, she says. But it's a safe bet that aggressive care is much more expensive than a palliative or hospice approach.
So how do we fix the problem? For starters, Balboni says that more funding for hospital chaplaincy programs might be a good start. But medical teams need to reach out to religious communities to improve communication and education.
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