Religious Belief Has No Place In Healthcare, Doctors Say

By Amir Khan on August 15, 2012 9:35 AM EDT

Prayer
Parent's religious beliefs often get in the way of doctor's advice, especially when it comes to their children, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (Photo: Creative Commons)

Parent's religious beliefs often get in the way of doctor's advice, especially when it comes to their children, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Researchers found that when children have no hope of recovery, parents will continue treatment against medical advice and hope for divine intervention.

In the study, doctors from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London called for British lawmakers to give doctors greater influence in dealing with terminally ill patients, saying a parent's religious beliefs should not be a "determining factor." They added that keeping children on a ventilator while hoping for divine intervention is unnecessary and painful.

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"Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator having every bodily function supervised and sanitized by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child or adult has been argued as inhumane," the researchers wrote in the study. "We suggest it is time to reconsider current ethical and legal structures and facilitate rapid default access to courts in such situations when the best interests of the child are compromised in expectation of the miraculous."  

Researchers looked at more than 200 cases that involved end-of-life decisions over a three year period, and found that while the majority of parents agreed with their doctor's advice, several insisted on continuing treatment while waiting for a miracle.

In total, there were 11 of parents insisting on continuing treatment. In five of those cases, parents were finally convinced to go with the doctor's advice. In another, a court order allowed doctors to remove life support. The rest were kept on life support, with four dying and one surviving, but with profound neurological disabilities.

"Faced with the choice between providing an intensive care bed to a (severely brain damaged) child and one who has been at school and was hit by a cricket ball and will return to normal life, we should provide the bed to the child hit by the cricket ball," Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Institute of Ethics at Oxford University, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, told CBS News.

Dr. Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics for NYU-Langone Medical Center, told ABC News, said doctors should have the final say in patient matters.

"You have to take beliefs into account but you can't let any parent for any reason hijack what you as a doctor believe is in the child's best interest," he explained. "If you think what they want will cause pain and suffering and further treatment is pointless, a doctor should not do it even if the parents say Jesus spoke to them."

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