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J Aging Health. 2008 Aug;20(5):545-59. doi: 10.1177/0898264308317538. Epub 2008 Apr 28.

Religion, risk, and medical decision making at the end of life.

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  • 1Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Program On Aging, and Yale School of Public Health, 300 George Street, Suite 775, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.



The purpose of this study is to present empirical evidence about whether religious patients are more or less willing to undergo the risks associated with potentially life-sustaining treatment.


At least every 4 months 226 older community-dwelling persons with advanced cancer, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were asked questions about several dimensions of religiousness and about their willingness to accept potentially life-sustaining treatment.


Results were mixed but persons who said that during their illness they grew closer to God (odds ratio [OR] = 1.79; 95% confidence intervals [CI] = 1.15, 2.78) or those grew spiritually (OR = 1.61; 95% CI = 1.03, 2.52) were more willing to accept risk associated with potentially life-sustaining treatment than were persons who did not report such growth.


Not all dimensions of religiousness have the same association with willingness to undergo potentially life-sustaining treatment. Seriously ill older, religious patients are not especially predisposed to avoid risk and resist treatment.

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