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Monday, August 02, 2010

Dying and religious belief

An on-line acquaintance sent me a link to an news report entitled "Strong Religious Faith Associated With Aggressive End-of-Life Care," for which I am grateful.

Although the link I received allowed me to see the report freely, it is possible -- I'm not sure -- that any reader of this blog who tries to access it may be required to obtain a free membership to Medscape Medical News. The on-line report gives this reference to the original study: JAMA. 2009;301:1140-1147. JAMA is the Journal of the American Medical Association, a prestigious and widely read refereed periodical.

The contents of the report match the title. People with strong religious faith, in this study, at least, received more intense end-of-life care. They had made significantly less preparation for dying, that is, were less likely to have made a living will, or have appointed a medical power of attorney.

There were 345 patients analyzed.

A number of questions come to mind. Was the more aggressive care because the patient wished it, or the family? Was there a difference between Protestants and Catholics? (I'm not sure if any Jews, Muslims, or members of another faith were included.) And, most importantly, why was more aggressive care requested?

I quote from the report: "positive religious coping was significantly associated with being black or Hispanic, and that those with a high level of positive religious coping tended to be younger, less educated, less likely to be insured, less likely to be married, and more likely to have been recruited from sites in Texas. . ." The report says that adjustments were made to remove possible statistical influences due to age and ethnicity. It does not say that being single, or less educated, less well-off financially, or being from Texas, was also removed.

In spite of the fairly small sample, and the possible effects of being single, or less educated, or growing up in Texas, let us say that the conclusion, as given by the title, should be taken at face value. What does that mean? It may mean that Bible-believing Christians aren't really as eager as we say we are to leave this life from the next.

Alternative interpretations are possible. Perhaps strongly religious people have more to live for, or are more loved by their families. I don't know.

I say that I believe that there is a life beyond this one. I say I believe that it will be an infinitely better life. Do I really believe this? I hope so.

Thanks for reading.

5 comments:

Pete DeSanto said...

Yeah, I don't think this is the final word on things (1 study never is!), but it does raise a lot of interesting questions like those you asked.

For the believer, I can see that these questions might suggest an uncomfortable lack of complete faith in their god. But that is not something I would necessarily hold against them as you might guess!

debbie said...

GOOD MORNING MARTIN,
THIS IS CERTAINLY AN ARTICLE THAT CAN BE ANSWERED IN MANY WAYS....
FIRST: I DON'T LIKE ANY ONE TO REFER TO ME AS RELIGIOUS. IT CREATES THE SAME FEELING AS FINGERNAILS SCREACHING ACROSS A CHALKBOARD. MY FAITH IS BASED ON AN INTIMATE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, AND HE LEFT ME A COMFORTER, THE HOLY SPIRIT. THE TRINITY...FATHER GOD, HIS SON JESUS AND THE HOLY SPIRIT. HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY LOVE SOMEONE YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT AND DO IT RELIGIOUSLY...YOU CAN DO ANYTHING RELIGIOUSLY.
MY 33 YEAR OLD, SINGLE, DAUGHTER GRADUATED TO HEAVEN ON OCTOBER 23, 2009. SHE WEIGHED 47 POUNDS,(FOURTY SEVEN POUNDS) HAD A TRACH, A FEEDING TUBE AND FOR THE LAST 50 DAYS OF HER LIFE WE RELIGIOUSLY EVERY TWO HOURS, THEN EVERY HOUR GAVE HER PAIN MEDS. HOSPICE SUPERVISED. SHE LOVED LIFE MORE THAN ANYTHING AND BELIEVED GOD WAS GOING TO HEAL HER. YOU SEE SHE HAD CANCER WHEN SHE WAS 10 1/2 AND THE DOCTORS, RELIGIOUSLY TOLD US SHE WOULD NOT LIVE. BY HAVING A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER WE WERE GRANTED 20 PLUS MORE YEARS...SO OF COURSE SHE BELIEVED HE WOULD HEAL HER AGAIN.
WE CANNOT QUESTION GOD OR UNDERSTAND WHY ONE PERSON IS HEALED AND ANOTHER IS NOT...WHY SOME BABIES LIVE AND SOME DON'T...I DO KNOW THIS...WHEN AMY'S INSURANCE RAN OUT...THE DRS/ONCOLOGIST STARTED PUTTING ON THE BREAKS FOR FURTHER CHEMOTHERAPY. CANCER IS VERY, VERY, VERY EXPENSIVE...THE CHEMO, THE RADIATION, THE ENDLESS LAB WORK, MRI'S, PET SCANS, CT SCANS, CHEST X RAYS, WHILE ALL THE TIME BELIEVING YOU WILL BE HEALED.
YOU MAY MARK MY WORD, WHILE YOU CALL ME A CRAZY WOMAN, BUT THE TIME IS COMING THE GOVERNMENT WILL CHOOSE WHO LIVES OR DIES AND YOU BETTER HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS FOR HELP AND HEALING.
AMY REFUSED TO TALK ABOUT DEATH...SHE NEVER CRIED...SHE NEVER ASK WHY...SHE LAUGHED...PASTOR MARNEY SAID AT HER GOING HOME CELEBRATION...EVERY TIME I CAME TO SEE HER...NO MATTER HOW MUCH PAIN...NO MATTER HOW SICK...SHE ALWAYS...ALWAYS HAD A SMILE. FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST DID THAT NOT RELIGION.
SHE WORKED HARD UNTIL SHE STARTED CHEMO.....BUT SHE WAS SINGLE, NO LIVING WILL...FINALLY GAVE ME POA, WE LIVE IN OKLAHOMA, NOT TEXAS AND SHE WAS CAUCASIAN.
THANKS FOR LISTENING
HAVE A SONSHINE DAY
SIMPLY DEBBIE

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Pete, and thanks for the article.

Thanks for your comment, Debbie. It's both sad and happy to read. You've been in a place that perhaps those who did this study have not.

I understand your dislike of the word, "religion," but it's necessary to use it in some contexts, including, I suppose, the study this post refers to.

FancyHorse said...

My heart goes out to Debbie and her family, and I admire their strong faith. I hope that mine will prove equally as strong if tested to that degree.

I wanted to say there are perhaps other reasons for religious people, or people of faith, to have more end-of-life care. Maybe they didn't make a living will because they might consider "pulling the plug" to be too close to killing the patient. They want to keep giving God a chance to heal them. Maybe they have a strong desire to live to see Jesus' second coming. Maybe they just didn't want to think about death and dying. I think, is it not true, that if one does not have a living will, that hospital staff are required to resuscitate and do all they can to prolong life?

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, FancyHorse.

All those things you mentioned, may be part of the causes of the results.

I don't think the hospital staff is required to keep treating if the family doesn't want them to, but otherwise, yes, their inclination is to continue treatment to prolong life.