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J Perinatol. 2001 Oct-Nov;21(7):426-30.

Spiritual and religious components of patient care in the neonatal intensive care unit: sacred themes in a secular setting.

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  • 1Neonatology Unit, Department of Pediatrics, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



We hypothesized that spiritual distress was a common, unrecognized theme for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) care providers.


An anonymous questionnaire form assigned to a data table in a relational database was designed.


Surveys were completed by 66% of NICU staff. All respondents viewed a family's spiritual and religious concerns as having a place in patient care. Eighty-three percent reported praying for babies privately. Asked what theological sense they made of suffering of NICU babies, 2% replied that children do not suffer in the NICU. Regarding psychological suffering of families, the majority felt God could prevent this, with parents differing (p = 0.039) from nonparents.


There exists a strong undercurrent of spirituality and religiosity in the study NICU. These data document actual religious and spiritual attitudes and practices and support a need for pastoral resources for both families and care providers. NICU care providers approach difficulties of their work potentially within a religious and spiritual rather than a uniquely secular framework.

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