Spiritual care at end of life emphasized by researcher

Spiritual care at the end of life receives emphasis in a new report by a clinical oncologist.

USA Today reported favorably on efforts by a clinical oncologist to study the quality of spiritual care for patients at end of life.

'For patients who are dying of cancer, few things are as profound as their relationship with God. Among the terminally ill, studies show, being at peace with God is more important than just about anything else, ranking only marginally lower than the desire to ease physical pain.

'Tracy Balboni says she was inspired to study the spiritual needs of dying patients because of her work as a radiation oncologist. About 40% of the services she provides, she says, go to patients who have little to no hope of cure but who need relief for pain or other symptoms.

'In a new survey, Balboni found that 88% of terminal cancer patients said religion was at least somewhat important to them. And about half had been visited by clergy. Yet Balboni's research also suggests that hospitals, doctors and even religious communities fail to support the spiritual needs of their cancer patients at the end of life.

'In her survey of 230 people with less than a year to live, nearly half say they received little to no support for their spiritual needs from religious communities. More than 70% say their spiritual needs weren't met by hospital chaplains or others in the health care system, says the study, published Saturday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology....

'But experts from religious and medical organizations acknowledge that the study reflects an uncomfortable truth: Many professionals, from pastors to physicians, lack the training or skills to help dying patients cope with spiritual questions.

'Doctors and nurses are usually uneasy when it comes to talking about God because they fear that they might be imposing their religious beliefs on others or appearing unprofessional, says Balboni, a senior resident in the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program. Doctors also are unsure what to say. So, most often, they ignore the issue.'

However, there is plenty of medical literature to advise physicians on how best to bring up patient's religious beliefs and take advantage of resources to help with spiritual care. In the days of AG (After Google) and Medline, all it takes is a simple search. Ignorance is no longer bliss -- it's dangerous.

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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.
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