A majority of Americans believe that God can intervene when a family member is dying, according to a new survey.
University of Connecticut researchers found that 57 percent the people they polled believe God can save a dying family member. They also found that more than 20 percent of doctors and medical workers felt that God can change a hopeless situation.
The study also points out that doctors should respect families who are hoping and praying for miracles through divine intervention.
"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 from a medical stand-point.
The study surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults three years ago, which were randomly selected by telephone to answer questions about their views on end-of-life medical care. In addition, 774 doctors, nurses, and other medical workers also responded to specific questions by mail.
Survey questions mostly dealt with untimely deaths. The patients in these cases were trauma victims of accidents and violence.
Dr. Lenworth Jacobs, a University of Connecticut surgery professor and trauma chief at Hartford Hospital, was the lead researcher and writer of the study's findings.
He said trauma treatment advances have allowed patients who previously would have died at the scene to survive longer. That shift means hospital trauma specialists "are much more heavily engaged in the death process," he said.
Jacobs said he frequently 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.
Jacobs believes relatives need to know that doctors want a miracle too but from their viewpoint and experience, "it's just that is not going to happen today with this patient."
Like many hospitals, Claudia McCormick, a nurse and trauma program director at Duke University Hospital uses a team approach to help relatives deal with dying trauma victims, using social workers, grief counselors and chaplains to work alongside doctors and nurses.
If the family still says, "We just can't shut that machine off, then, you know what, we can't shut that machine off," McCormick said.
"Sometimes," she said, "you might have a family that's having a hard time and it might take another day, and that's OK."
The survey appears in Monday's Archives of Surgery publication.
Source: The Associated Press