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The role of religious beliefs in ethics committee consultations for conflict over life-sustaining treatment
  1. Julia I Bandini1,
  2. Andrew Courtwright2,3,
  3. Angelika A Zollfrank4,
  4. Ellen M Robinson2,
  5. Wendy Cadge1
  1. 1 Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2 Institute for Patient Care, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  3. 3 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  4. 4 Department of Spiritual Care, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ellen M. Robinson, Institute for Patient Care, Founders 341, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA; erobinson1{at}


Previous research has suggested that individuals who identify as being more religious request more aggressive medical treatment at end of life. These requests may generate disagreement over life-sustaining treatment (LST). Outside of anecdotal observation, however, the actual role of religion in conflict over LST has been underexplored. Because ethics committees are often consulted to help mediate these conflicts, the ethics consultation experience provides a unique context in which to investigate this question. The purpose of this paper was to examine the ways religion was present in cases involving conflict around LST. Using medical records from ethics consultation cases for conflict over LST in one large academic medical centre, we found that religion can be central to conflict over LST but was also present in two additional ways through (1) religious coping, including a belief in miracles and support from a higher power, and (2) chaplaincy visits. In-hospital mortality was not different between patients with religiously versus non-religiously centred conflict. In our retrospective cohort study, religion played a variety of roles and did not lead to increased treatment intensity or prolong time to death. Ethics consultants and healthcare professionals involved in these cases should be cognisant of the complex ways that religion can manifest in conflict over LST.

  • Ethics Committees/Consultation
  • End-of-life
  • Moral and Religious Aspects

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  • Contributors AC, WC, ER and AZ initiated the collaborative project. JB collected the descriptive data, and JB and WC coded the data. AC ran the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to the drafting and revising of the paper.

  • Funding National Institutes of Health (5T32HL007633-30), Theodore and Jane Norman Fund for Faculty Research at Brandeis University.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Partners Human Research Committee (Massachusetts General Hospital).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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