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Spiritual support from friends leads to more aggressive end-of-life care

According to a new study conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, those with advanced cancer are more likely to receive aggressive care at the end of life and spend more time in intensive care of the receive some sort of spiritual support from a religious community. The outcome was actually the opposite of what the researchers had expected, as previous evidence has shown that spiritual support from a patient’s medical team leads to less aggressive care and more use of hospice care.


The study found that patients with spiritual support were two to three times more likely to receive aggressive end-of-life treatment when compared to those who received little to no spiritual support. About 11 percent of the latter chose to pursue aggressive treatments such as such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and ventilators.


The study did corroborate previous data in showing that spiritual support from doctors, nurses and chaplains led to a 77 percent decrease in aggressive interventions .


Part of the reason for the distinction in where spiritual support is coming from is that a patient’s medical team has a better idea of where the illness is heading than those without medical knowledge, and this affects the way the patient makes his or her decisions. For this reason, the researchers said that the study points to the need for greater collaboration between religious communities and medical teams.


Having a game plan in place regarding end-of-life care is an important aspect of estate planning. Advance health care directives can not only help people appoint an individual to make medical decisions for them if they become incompetent, but also allow them to express their wishes regarding specific courses of care.

Source: Source: Reuters, “Religious support tied to intensive end-of-life care,” Genevra Pittman, May 7, 2013.