Americans choose God over doctors for saving lives

When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.

An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors "need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle."

More than half of randomly surveyed adults - 57% - said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand such treatment.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20% of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

"Sensitivity to this belief will promote development of a trusting relationship" with patients and their families, according to researchers. That trust, they said, is needed to help doctors explain objective, overwhelming scientific evidence showing that continued treatment would be worthless.

The survey, in Monday's Archives of Surgery, involved 1000 US adults randomly selected to answer questions by telephone about their views on end-of-life medical care. They were surveyed in 2005, along with 774 doctors, nurses and other medical workers who responded to mailed questions.

Survey questions mostly dealt with untimely deaths from trauma such as accidents and violence. These deaths are often particularly tough on relatives because they are more unexpected than deaths from lingering illnesses such as cancer, and the patients tend to be younger.

Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital, was the lead author.

He said trauma treatment advances have allowed patients who previously would have died at the scene to survive longer. That shift means hospital trauma specialists "are much more heavily engaged in the death process," he said.

Jacobs said he frequently meets people who think God will save their dying loved one and who want medical procedures to continue.

"You can't say, 'That's nonsense.' You have to respect that" and try to show them X-rays, CAT scans and other medical evidence indicating death is imminent, he said.

Relatives need to know that "it's not that you don't want a miracle to happen, it's just that is not going to happen today with this patient," he said.

Families occasionally persist and hospitals have gone to court seeking to stop medical treatment doctors believe is futile, but such cases are quite rare.

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