Patients Believe in God More than Their Doctor

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

When it comes to belief in divine intervention, patients have a lot more faith than their doctors.

This is the result of a new survey conducted by Dr. Lenworth M. Jacobs and colleagues of Hartford Hospital and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. After analyzing the results of a telephone survey of 1,006 people and a written survey mailed to trauma center and emergency medical services personnel, researchers found that more than half of the public – 57 percent – said they believe divine intervention can save a person even after physicians say treatment is futile. Less than 20 percent of medical professionals felt the same way.

Even more people – 61 percent – believe God can save someone in a persistent vegetative state compared to only 20 percent of medical professionals.
The survey questions dealt mostly with untimely deaths from trauma such as accidents and violence. These deaths are particularly tough on relatives because they are more unexpected than deaths from lingering illnesses such as cancer, and the patients tend to be younger.

Dr. Jacobs told the Associated Press that he frequently meets people in these situations who think God will save their dying loved one and who want medical procedures to continue.

“You can’t say, ‘That’s nonsense.’ You have to respect that” and try to show them X-rays, CAT scans and other medical evidence indicating death is imminent, he said.

Relatives need to know that “it’s not that you don’t want a miracle to happen, it’s just that is not going to happen today with this patient,” he said.

However, Claudia McCormick, a nurse and trauma program director at Duke University Hospital, said that while she never saw a miracle occur in her career, her niece’s recovery after being hit by a boat while inner-tubing earlier this year came close.

The boat backed into her and its propeller “caught her in the side of the head,” McCormick said. “She had no pulse when they pulled her out of the water.”

Doctors at the hospital where she was airlifted said “it really doesn’t look good.” And while it never reached the point where withdrawing lifesaving equipment was discussed, McCormick recalled one of her doctors saying later:  “God has plans for this child. I never thought she’d be here.”

Irregardless of their personal beliefs, however, researchers say it is vital for health care workers to respect the beliefs of patients, even those who are hoping for a miracle.

“Sensitivity to this belief will promote development of a trusting relationship” with patients and their families, researchers said.  That trust is needed to help doctors explain objective, overwhelming scientific evidence showing that continued treatment would be worthless.

Dr. Jacob’s findings were published in the August issue of the Archives of Surgery.


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