A new study in the Journal of Medical Ethics says:
… doctors who described themselves as non-religious were more likely than others to report having given continuous deep sedation until death, having taken decisions they expected or partly intended to end life, and to have discussed these decisions with patients judged to have the capacity to participate in discussions.
The Guardian summarized the study like this:
Doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to take decisions that might shorten the life of somebody who is terminally ill as doctors who are deeply religious –- and doctors with strong religious convictions are less likely even to discuss such decisions with the patient, according to Professor Clive Seale, from the centre for health sciences at Barts and the London school of medicine and dentistry.
The doctors were asked about the care of their last patient who died, if relevant -– including whether they had provided continuous deep sedation until death and whether they had discussed decisions judged likely to shorten life with the patient.
… regardless of their speciality, doctors who described themselves as “extremely” or “very non-religious” were almost twice as likely to report having taken these kinds of decisions as those with a religious belief.
The most religious doctors were significantly less likely than other doctors to have discussed options at the end of life with their patient.
That last line is really damning toward religious doctors… why would they not discuss all the end-of-life options with you?
Of course, you could spin this whole article in a completely different way, as Twitter users were quick to point out to me.
You could say religious doctors are twice as likely to prolong pain and suffering for terminally ill patients.
Or that religious doctor are less likely to respect their patients’ wishes.
Carrie at Skepchick didn’t like the article spin at all:
If I were to write the headline, neutrally, it would read something like Doctors’ Religious Attitudes Can Impact End of Life Care. If I felt the need to sex it up a bit, I’d probably go with Religious Doctors Less Likely to Respect Patients’ Wishes. Both would be far more responsible than what the Guardian ran with.
This is one of the worst examples of science reporting from an ostensibly respectable news outlet I’ve seen in awhile. Especially annoying is the way it plays into the fear of atheism, while missing the point of the study entirely…
It’s unfortunate the paper took the route that makes it sound like atheist doctors want to kill their patients, when the truth is so far from that. We want people to live the best life possible. If the rest of your life is going to be a living hell, you have a right to decide whether to continue it or not.