Terminally ill cancer patients who drew comfort from religion were far more likely to seek aggressive, life-prolonging care in the week before they died than were less religious patients and far more likely to want doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive, a study has found.
The patients who were devout were three times as likely as less religious ones to be put on a mechanical ventilator to maintain breathing during the last week of life, and they were less likely to do any advance care planning, like signing a do-not-resuscitate order, preparing a living will or creating a health care proxy, the analysis found.
The study is to be published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
“People think that spiritual patients are more likely to say their lives are in God’s hands — ’Let what happens happen’ — but in fact we know they want more aggressive care,” said Holly G. Prigerson, the study’s senior author and director of the Center for Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“To religious people, life is sacred and sanctified,” Dr. Prigerson said, “and there’s a sense they feel it’s their duty and obligation to stay alive as long as possible.”
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What do we all think here? I am apt to think that I'd opt to die quietly with family and friends around me. But who knows what kind of fears might overwhelm me?
But if we truly do have faith, why worry? If we've lived a good life and have been declared terminal, for what reason would we seek an aggressive "Hail Mary" type of treatment. Is this perhaps another statement of faith? That God can do anything and we trust that God will do what's best and we need to give all that we can to this process?
I've been with a few people during those last few days of life. What I noticed most is that most people often LACK fear. That they almost look forward to their moment of death. These are the people who have a quiet faith and an inner peace and have lived a life in which they are quiet comfortable in their own skin and have given much to others throughout their life.
But I've also been with people who are the polar opposite. People who were filled with great fear. These are people who also may have wanted to hasten death but did so out of fear of suffering. And some who wanted to stay alive irrationally when all hope had been dashed and there was no turning back from their diagnosis and yet they still held out hope for a miracle.
My final thought is that we are forward looking people as Catholics. In faith, we believe that there is more beyond this life and into that great mystery of faith we will travel beyond this life. Karl Rahner, the great Jesuit theologian believed that God was ALWAYS mystery--that even after death God remained mystery to us. That's what makes God, God and us, us. We are always "other" to God and God is always "mystery" to us. That at first, seems cruel that we don't get to know all there is to know about God beyond death. But Rahner's hypothesis also holds much hope for life beyond death. Where we are still serving God in new ways and where the journey doesn't end for us, but rather change.
"For people of faith, life has changed, not ended."
What comments might you have on these issues?