Discussing religious and spiritual issues at the end of life: a practical guide for physicians.


Journal Article

As patients near the end of life, their spiritual and religious concerns may be awakened or intensified. Many physicians, however, feel unskilled and uncomfortable discussing these concerns. This article suggests how physicians might respond when patients or families raise such concerns. First, some patients may explicitly base decisions about life-sustaining interventions on their spiritual or religious beliefs. Physicians need to explore those beliefs to help patients think through their preferences regarding specific interventions. Second, other patients may not bring up spiritual or religious concerns but are troubled by them. Physicians should identify such concerns and listen to them empathetically, without trying to alleviate the patient's spiritual suffering or offering premature reassurance. Third, some patients or families may have religious reasons for insisting on life-sustaining interventions that physicians advise against. The physician should listen and try to understand the patient's viewpoint. Listening respectfully does not require the physician to agree with the patient or misrepresent his or her own views. Patients and families who feel that the physician understands them and cares about them may be more willing to consider the physician's views on prognosis and treatment. By responding to patients' spiritual and religious concerns and needs, physicians may help them find comfort and closure near the end of life.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Lo, B; Ruston, D; Kates, LW; Arnold, RM; Cohen, CB; Faber-Langendoen, K; Pantilat, SZ; Puchalski, CM; Quill, TR; Rabow, MW; Schreiber, S; Sulmasy, DP; Tulsky, JA; Working Group on Religious and Spiritual Issues at the End of Life,

Published Date

  • February 2002

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 287 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 749 - 754

PubMed ID

  • 11851542

Pubmed Central ID

  • 11851542

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1538-3598

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0098-7484

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1001/jama.287.6.749


  • eng