Finding Religion at the End of Life: Patients of Faith Seek Lifesaving Care

"I think being open and sensitive to patients with spiritual and religious questions may lead to better understanding between patients and doctors," she said.

Koenig, who regularly speaks to physicians about addressing patients' religious needs, said that for a patient, bringing up religion can be uncomfortable.

"Many patients are scared to talk to their doctors, to bring this subject up, and many doctors are uncomfortable with it," he said, noting that medical schools and continuing medical education often don't broach the topic.

"There's no other way than for patients to be bold, if it's important to them, and bring it up," he said, adding that if the patient doesn't feel the doctor is sensitive, they should get another doctor.

"If religion is important to you, then a lot of your health care is going to touch on it," Koenig said.

Let Doctors Know Your Religious Beliefs

He said it is important to let doctors and nurses know about your religious beliefs in a nice way, and to ensure that if a patient's and a doctor's ethical beliefs conflict, to know that this is OK with the doctor.

In addition, Koenig said, religious organizations can play a role in teaching congregants about medical issues.

"What I would hope ... is that there would be an effort through churches to help to educate members of the congregation about some of these things," he said, giving do-not-resuscitate orders and living wills as examples.

"It's an ideal setting to educate people about these issues. They've found that it works," he said.

While he said the study's results are not surprising, Koenig said there may be some complications. While the study accounted for race in determining religious preference and how it factored into end-of-life decisions, he said it may be difficult to factor that out entirely.

And minorities, who were far more likely to be religious, may have other reasons for wanting end-of-life care.

"One of the reasons why many minorities want everything at the end of life is because they don't trust the doctor and the health care system," he said, noting that patients without that trust will often request anything available to them.

And it will often be granted.

"It may not be medically beneficial, in the eyes of physicians, to treat someone who is dying with these expensive regimens, but if they demand it, they get it," said Paul Simmons, an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Louisville, noting that public policy tends to show deference to religious beliefs.

However, Simmons noted that there tends to be a divide among religious people when it comes to end of life.

"I know of many religious people who would say, 'no, my faith says death is a transition, it's not an absolute evil,'" he said.

"Those who say, 'yes, I would choose aggressive care,' would say, 'I have different beliefs: Death is an absolute evil; people cannot choose death over life at any cost,'" he said.

Religious Comfort: Finding Common Ground

In 2007, Holt went into the hospital for observation and received a medication that lowered her blood pressure. When her blood pressure fell too quickly, she was given further tests, which showed she should have a colonoscopy.

She had colon cancer, and had a resectioning of the colon to remove it. In January of this year, she went in for further testing and doctors found the cancer had moved to the liver.

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