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Religion and Life Support Withdrawal in Children: What do Healthcare Providers Wish?

Objective: To study the relationship of faith with hypothetical life support withdrawal decisions for their own children among healthcare providers.

Design: We created a 33 questions survey named “End of Life Questionnaire” We surveyed 858 healthcare providers and staff of 9 healthcare institutions in the United States, Mexico and Panama. The main outcome measure was willingness to withdraw medical care even if this contradicted a religious edict. Statistics were mainly descriptive.

Results: The study included 180 doctors [21%], 317 nurses [36.9%], and 354 other healthcare institution workers [41.2%]. Most 57% [n=489] had children. Of the responders [51.9%, n=445] denoted themselves as Catholic. On a scale of 1-5 [1 being not spiritual and 5 being very spiritual], 39.6% defined themselves as very spiritual, 51% somewhat spiritual and 6.5% not spiritual. An association was found between having children and willingness to withdraw care even if this contradicted a religious edict [p=0.036]. Those who had children, 23% [114/483] would withdraw care, and respondents without children, 17.6% [63/357] would withdraw care [p=0.040]. This association was strong in non-doctor, non-nurse staff members [among those with children 26.6% [50/188] would withdraw care vs. among those without children 15.5% [26/168], p=0.013]]. In contrast, among medical-professionals, there was no association between having children, and willingness to withdraw care for their child. Responder gender was not associated with willingness to withdraw care.

Conclusion: Professional perspectives overshadowed the emotional influence of parenthood when workers of healthcare institutions made decisions regarding withdrawal of life support for their own child against a religious edict. Non-medical professionals were more willing to withdraw care if contradicted with their religion.

Author(s): Karen Torres, Joseph Varon, Sharon Einav, Ruben Bromiker, Shirley Friedman