>End of Life Decisions

>According to an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, “doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely as those with deeply religious beliefs to take decisions that might shorten a terminally-ill patient’s life.”

Below is a review of the article:

Terminally-ill patients would be well advised to find out the religious beliefs of their doctor, according to research showing the effect of faith on a doctor’s willingness to make decisions that could hasten death.

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.

“If I were a patient facing end of life care, I would want to know what my doctor’s views were on religious matters – whether they are non-religious or religious and whether the doctor felt that would influence them in the kinds of decisions they were looking at,” said Seale.

This is a thorny issue. Whether a doctor is a Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic should make no difference in the treatment of terminally-ill patients. Christians believe that human life is sacred and that humans were created in the image of God. It is for this reason that they also believe that any attempt to “shorten the life of somebody who is terminally ill” is an assault on human dignity.

I am against assisted suicide. However, there are times when a person is so sick that the suspension of treatment may be required. In these situations, the members of the family and the doctor, whether Christian or agnostic, involved in the treatment of that person, need to discuss the treatments available and decide what is the better for the patient.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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