Blog Post

Study: Atheist Doctors Twice as Likely to End Lives of Terminally Ill Patients

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist

A new study conducted by the London School of Medicine and Dentistry found that doctors who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to make decisions that could end the lives of their terminally ill patients, compared to doctors who are very religious.

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the faith of the family doctor may weigh more than we think in how they will treat us or our loved ones at the end of life. Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 3,700 doctors across Britain, of whom 2,923 reported on how they took care of their last terminal patient.

"Doctors who described themselves as 'extremely' or 'very nonreligious' were nearly twice as likely to report having made decisions like providing continuous deep sedation, which could accelerate a patient's death," the AP reports.

This prompted Seale to suggest that "nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients" in order for patients to be sure the doctor is acting in accordance with their wishes.

Existing guidelines from the British Medical Association prohibit doctors from allowing their religious beliefs to interfere with their treatment of patients. If a patient is unable to communicate their wishes, the doctor must not rely on their own values, but should take "all reasonable steps to maximize the patient's ability to participate in the decision-making process."

The study was paid for by Britain's National Council for Palliative Care and was published online Thursday in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

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