Spirituality Presents a Paradox in End-of-Life Care

Cheryl Clark, May 9, 2013

The amount of spiritual support received by terminally ill patients has a direct impact on the aggressiveness of their end-of-life care. But not in the way you're probably thinking.

Might God, or rather those who purport to represent the Lord's guidance, be blocking efforts to bend the nation's healthcare cost curve by pushing futile costly care on the terminally ill?

A study this week from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute prompts this provocative, admittedly incendiary question.

These may sound like fighting words to those of many faiths. Yet it's what I found myself asking after reading a paper by Dana Farber's, Tracy Balboni, MD, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Balboni, a palliative care specialist and core researcher for the institute's Center for Psychooncology and Palliative Care Research, surveyed several hundred patients with advanced cancer who received care at seven oncology centers in Boston, Dallas, and New Haven.

Her team asked these terminal patients to rank how much spiritual support they received from their pastors, priests, rabbis, or other members of their religious communities, compared with how much support they got from their medical team or hospital chaplain.

After the patients died, the researchers returned to their medical records to examine the aggressiveness of their end-of-life care.


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