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