Religious Doctors Less Likely to Kill Patients With Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 27, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Religious Doctors Less Likely to Kill Patients With Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 27
, 2010

London, England ( — Patients worried about becoming a victim of euthanasia should ensure they find a doctor who holds strong religious views. That’s because a new study out of Great Britain finds physicians who are atheist or agnostic are twice as likely to make decisions taking the lives of terminally ill patients.

Dr. Clive Seale, a professor at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, conducted a random mail survey of more than 8,500 doctors. Almost 4,000 responded and more than 3,000 described the death of a patient.

Seale found doctors, many of whom care for elderly patients or are neurologists, who describe themselves as "extremely" or "very nonreligious" were twice as likely to report that the care for their last terminally ill patient included euthanasia practices such as deep sedation.

He found religious doctors were also less likely to keep patients in continuous deep sedation or to support legislation allowing assisted suicide.

"There was a strong link between specialty and reporting decisions that were expected or partly intended to hasten the end of a sick patient’s life," Medical News Today reported on the study. "Hospital specialists were nearly 10 times more likely to report such decisions than palliative care doctors."

According to an AP report, Seale wrote that "nonreligious doctors should confess their predilections to their patients," so they know they could become victims.

"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," Seale said.

Ann McPherson, of the pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying, condemned religious doctors.

"Whilst entitled to their beliefs," she said, doctors "should not let them come in the way of providing patient centered care at the end of life."

Dave Andrusko, editor of the National Right to Life Committee’s newspaper, responded, saying that, to euthanasia backers, "’patient-centered’ always means a preferential option for death. By contrast the doctors who described themselves as very or extremely religious were in no hurry to expedite their patients’ deaths."

"McPherson implied that these physicians might easily be hampered in addressing matters of pain control. A more charitable (and far more likely) expectation is that these physicians–since they are also not promoters of euthanasia–would know that proper pain management is the single best line of defense against the assisted suicide set," he said.

Andrusko noted how news outlets treated the results differently in their reporting.

"It’s often very interesting (and illustrative) to see how different publications headline the same story," he said.

Andrusko noted the British publication "The Guardian," used the headline "Atheist doctors ‘more likely to hasten death" while the Los Angeles Times used "Religious views influence treatment offered by doctors" and the British "Medical News Today," had "Doctors’ Religious Faith Influences End Of Life Care."

Britain’s National Council for Palliative Care paid for the study and it was published online on Thursday in the Journal of Medical Ethics.


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