Role of religion/faith and views of death and treatment
June 25, 2013 1 Comment
Andrew Sullivan links to an excerpt from a book (I haven’t read) “What you don’t know about religion but should” by Ryan Craqun on why people who are religious seem to have a harder time facing death:
A growing body of evidence seems to support the idea that the nonreligious have an easier time coping with death than do the religious, at least with their own mortality. Religious people appear to be more afraid of death than are nonreligious people. Nonreligious people are less likely to use aggressive means to extend their lives and exhibit less anxiety about dying than do religious people. That seems remarkably counterintuitive since the nonreligious are much less likely to believe in an afterlife, which is supposed to help people cope with death. But factor in that religious people are contemplating their eternal fate and it begins to make more sense. Even if they have done everything their religion says they are supposed to do, there is always a bit of uncertainty about where they might end up. As a result, religious people appear to have a greater fear of dying than do nonreligious people.
As a Christian who over the years has had quite a lot of experience at being the most liberal (or one of them anyway) person in a given Church, etc. I have long been fascinated by the seeming disconnect between stated beliefs and fear of death–especially as these fears relate to worries about whether one might have care “rationed” or denied to them. My awareness of this paradox was acute during the “death panel” lie/brouhaha during health reform.
I wrote a letter of intent for a proposal competition with Raymond Barfield, and oncologist at Duke to try and study this (Letter of Inquiry.NIHCM.DonTaylor.8.15.12 if anyone wants to run with it). We were going to develop a series of health care scenarios and have members of different groups discuss them (both faith groups and non faith groups; hypothesis was that the more religiously conservative, the more fearful of death and being denied last ditch treatments) and were going to observe the differences in the language and judgments that different groups used. Alas, it was not funded….this is likely one of those things I will never get around to studying. However, understanding the role of faith/religion in talking about limits in medicine and how to address same is a difficult issue in a polarized nation. If you are interested in this topic look up Charles Camosy at Fordham.