(CBS) At the end of life, patients put their faith in doctors and, according to a new study, whether doctors put their faith in God makes a big difference in how they are treated.
According to a mail-in survey of nearly 4,000 British doctors, those who were atheist or agnostic were almost twice as willing to take actions designed to hasten the end of life. They were also far more likely to offer "continuous deep sedation until death" and discus end of life options with their patients.
Perhaps even more surprising, doctors who did not specialize in palliative (end of life) care were 10 times more likely to make those decisions regardless of religious faith.
The study was published this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
What does the study mean for patients? There are at least two possible interpretations.
One is that religious doctors are slow to offer care that will ease pain at the end of life and quick to recommend treatment that will prolong life regardless of the cost to the patient and family.
The flip view is that non-religious doctors are quick to take steps that will hasten death and quick to offer drugs that will render patients unconscious.
What's certainly clear is patients will receive very different recommendations in hospitals than they would in special end of life facilities.
The ultimate lesson, the researchers say, is it's important to understand your doctor's values and make sure they are in line with your own.
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