People talk about all the comfort religion provides the sick and dying. Personally, I feel comforted knowing that there’s no evidence I will end up anything other than worm food, because it means I live my every day to the fullest. From Science Daily, a study by Holly Prigerson, soon to be published in JAMA, found that being religious can increase terminal patients’ suffering in their final days:
In a new study of terminally ill cancer patients, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that those who draw on religion to cope with their illness are more likely to receive intensive, life-prolonging medical care as death approaches — treatment that often entails a lower quality of life in patients’ final days.
…The study involved 345 advanced cancer patients at seven hospital and cancer centers around the country. Participants were interviewed about their means of coping with the illness, their use of advance care planning tools such as living wills and durable power of attorney, and their preferences regarding end-of-life treatment. Investigators then tracked each patient’s course of care during the remainder of his or her life.
An analysis of the data showed that patients identified as positive religious copers had nearly three times the odds of receiving life-prolonging care, in the form of being on a ventilator or receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation, in the final week of life. Even after researchers accounted for the influence of important factors such as age, ethnicity, or other coping techniques, the connection between religious coping and aggressive EOL care held up.
The researchers also found that religious copers in the study were less likely to have completed advance medical directives, such as a living will or do-not-resuscitate order, which can limit the extent of such interventions in advance. The effects of religious coping on the use of intensive medical care in the last week of life remained significant even after adjusting for differences in advance care planning.