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Int J Psychiatry Med. 1983-1984;13(3):221-32.

Fear of death, death attitudes, and religious conviction in the terminally ill.


The way in which an individual's belief system about death affects fear of death (FOD) has been largely neglected in the thanatology literature. The present study addresses the dimension of certainty or uncertainty with which beliefs about death are held and examines the way in which such attitudes might affect the FOD in dying patients. Twenty terminally ill patients were administered three FOD measures and a death perspective scale which assessed eight death attitudes. FOD among the terminally ill at both the conscious and fantasy level was low. Increased age was associated with declining conscious FOD, independent of life expectancy. Of the eight death perspectives, the attitudes toward death as afterlife-of-reward most directly tap the dimension of certainty or uncertainty. A significant curvilinear relationship emerged between this death perspective and FOD, suggesting that beliefs are a less critical determinant of death fear than is the certainty with which these beliefs are held. The study raises research and clinical issues pertinent to understanding FOD in dying patients.

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