Balboni: U.S. Clergy Religious Values and Relationships to End-of-Life Discussions and Care

Context. Although clergy interact with approximately half of U.S. patients facing end-of-life medical decisions, little is known about clergy-congregant interactions or clergy influence on end-of-life decisions.

Objective. The objective was to conduct a nationally representative survey of clergy beliefs and practices.

Methods. A mailed survey to a nationally representative sample of clergy completed in March 2015 with 1005 of 1665 responding (60% response rate). The primary predictor variable was clergy religious values about end-of-life medical decisions, which measured belief in miracles, the sanctity of life, trust in divine control, and redemptive suffering. Outcome variables included clergy-congregant end-of-life medical conversations and congregant receipt of hospice and intensive care unit (ICU) care in the final week of life.

Results. Most U.S. clergy are Christian (98%) and affirm religious values despite a congregant’s terminal diagnosis. Endorsement included God performing a miracle (86%), pursuing treatment because of the sanctity of life (54%), postponement of medical decisions because God is in control (28%), and enduring painful treatment because of redemptive suffering (27%). Life-prolonging religious values in end-of-life medical decisions were associated with fewer clergy-congregant conversations about considering hospice (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 0.58; 95% CI 0.42e0.80), P < 0.0001), stopping treatment (AOR 0.58, 95% CI 0.41e0.84, P 1⁄4 0.003), and forgoing future treatment (AOR 0.50, 95% CI 0.36e0.71, P < 0.001) but not associated with congregant receipt of hospice or ICU care. Clergy with lower medical knowledge were less likely to have certain end-of-life conversations. The absence of a clergy-congregant hospice discussion was associated with less hospice (AOR 0.45; 95% CI 0.29e0.66, P < 0.001) and more ICU care (AOR 1.67; 95% CI 1.14e2.50, P < 0.01) in the final week of life.

Conclusion. American clergy hold religious values concerning end-of-life medical decisions, which appear to decrease end- of-life discussions. Clergy end-of-life education may enable better quality end-of-life care for religious patients. 


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