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Many believe God can revive the dying

Survey says belief in intervention is widespread

By Lindsey Tanner
Associated Press / August 19, 2008
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CHICAGO - When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans.

An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors "need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle."

More than half of randomly surveyed adults - 57 percent - said God's intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand such treatment.

When asked to imagine their own relatives being gravely ill or injured, nearly 20 percent of doctors and other medical workers said God could reverse a hopeless outcome.

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

Pat Loder, a Milford, Mich., woman whose two young children were killed in a 1991 car crash, said she clung to a belief that God would intervene when things looked hopeless.

"When you're a parent and you're standing over the body of your child who you think is dying . . . you have to have that" belief, Loder said.

While doctors should be prepared to deal with those beliefs, they also shouldn't "sugarcoat" the truth about a patient's condition, Loder said.

Loder said her beliefs about divine intervention have changed.

"I have become more of a realist," she said. "I know that none of us are immune from anything."

Loder was not involved in the survey, which appeared in yesterday's Archives of Surgery.

It involved 1,000 US adults randomly selected to answer questions by telephone about their views on end-of-life medical care. They were surveyed in 2005, along with 774 doctors, nurses and other medical workers who responded to mailed questions.

Survey questions mostly dealt with untimely deaths from trauma such as accidents and violence. These deaths are often 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. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital, was the lead author.

Jacobs said he often meets people 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.

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