Spirituality and Medicine

Alexandra Nichipor: Religion and the BRCA Mutation

IT WAS A COLD DAY in January, not long before my 22nd birthday, and I was looking out at the Boston cityscape after receiving my genetic test results. I called my boyfriend and tried to be lighthearted about it. “Hey, I just found out I’m the most boring member of the X-men.”

My genetic counselor had explained my BRCA2 mutation to me carefully. “Sometimes cells divide incorrectly, and when this process goes unchecked, a person can develop cancer. We each have a number of genes that put a stop to this process. One of them is called BRCA2.” She held up two hands “Every...

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Tyler VanderWeele: Is Forgiveness a Public Health Issue?

If forgiveness is strongly related to health, and being wronged is a common experience, and interventions, even do-it-yourself workbook interventions, are available and effective, then one might make the case that forgiveness is a public health issue. From a societal perspective, the public health impact of an exposure or intervention is often assessed as a function of (1) how common the exposure or experience is, and (2) how large its effects are. Because being wronged is common, and be- cause the effects of forgiveness on health are substantial, forgiveness should perhaps be...

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Tyler VanderWeele: Do Religious People Live Longer?

If a long life is what you’re after, going to church may be the answer to your prayers.

A number of studies have shown associations between attending religious services and living a long time. One of the most comprehensive, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2016, found that women who went to any kind of religious service morethan once a week had a 33% lower chance than their secular peers of dying during the 16-year study-follow-up period. Another study, published last year in PLOS One, found that regular service attendance was linked to reductions in the body’s...

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Gloria White-Hammond: Church Spurs Parishioners To Plan For Illness And Death

By Melissa Bailey

“It would feel like murder to pull her life support,” a young woman tells the doctor.

The woman sits by a hospital bed where her mother, Selena, lies unresponsive, hooked up to a
breathing tube. The daughter has already made one attempt to save her mother’s life; she
pulled Selena out of the car and performed CPR when her heart stopped en route to the
hospital — an experience she calls “beyond terrifying.”

Now the doctor tells the family Selena will never wake up in a meaningful way. But the daughter
says she...

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IHRS in the News: Quest for a Peaceful Death

By Jeff Wheelwright

When a cancer patient has run out of options — when her disease has returned and the latest experimental
drug has failed and her oncologist hasn’t much to say — that’s when the patient would be fortunate to meet
Tracy Balboni. She’s a radiation oncologist and palliative care researcher at Harvard Medical School and
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She works at the murky stage of care known as end-of-life, where
decisions about additional treatment can be complicated by fear and pain.


Simply put, Balboni’s...

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Tyler VanderWeele: What the New York Times Gets Wrong about Marriage, Health, and Wellbeing

Last week, a New York Times op-ed, “Get Married, Get Healthy? Maybe Not,” called into question a large body of research indicating marriage is associated with better health, less depression, and greater well-being. From a rigorous research perspective, some of the earlier studies were indeed methodologically weak, but in the past two decades, that has changed. There are now a number of strong studies that reinforce and demonstrate that marriage—in addition to being a good in...

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IHRS in the News: Research Assistant Alexandra Nichipor Honored by Alma Mater

 

After MCLA, and following a year in China to teach English, Alexandra Nichipor ’12 went on to earn her master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. She recently accepted a position at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she’s a research assistant for its Initiative on Health, Religion and Spirituality.

The Initiative’s mission, Nichipor explained, is to...

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IHRS in the News: The Case For Incorporating Spiritual Care In Medicine

Dr. Christina Puchalski is familiar with death. The palliative care doctor and founder of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWish) has seen countless patients facing the end of life ― but there are still moments that shake her foundation.

Several years ago, Puchalski went into a checkup with a patient previously diagnosed with a terminal illness. Puchalski knew the appointment might take a while, and she was already running behind schedule. She was nervous.

“I felt the anxiety as I walked in the room,” Puchalski told The Huffington Post. “...

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