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Religion "influences doctor's call"

Medical decisions to hasten death are nearly twice as likely to be taken by non-religious doctors than those who hold a deep faith, according to research.

Doctors with strong religious beliefs were less likely to talk about treatments that would speed up death with seriously ill patients, a survey of almost 4,000 doctors found.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, called on the views of doctors working in elderly care, neurology, palliative end-of-life care, intensive care, hospital specialties and general practice.

They were quizzed about the care provided to the last patient who died and their religious views. The doctors were asked about decisions they might have taken, which were expected to, or partly intended to, end life. The findings showed that the ethnicity of the doctor was largely unrelated to whether they took controversial decisions.

But doctors who described themselves as non-religious were more likely than any other group to have given continuous deep sedation until death, having taken a decision they knew could or would end life.

And those doctors who described themselves as "extremely" or "very non-religious" were almost twice as likely to have taken these kinds of decisions as those with a strong religious belief.

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Journal of Medical Ethics