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Should religion be an issue when it comes to healthcare? That’s the question that has been brought into focus today following news of the publication of a study in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Reported widely in today’s press, the study suggests doctors behave differently in their approach to their work depending on their religious views. Those who are deeply religious, the research shows are less likely to speed up the death of terminally ill patients. Ethnicity, on the other hand, wasn’t a factor.

So what was involved in this particular study? Well researchers from The London University, led by Dr Clive Seale of Barts and the London School of Medicine quizzed almost 4,000 doctors, including many who worked with the elderly and end-of-life care. Now this brings up a bit of a grey area, as obviously euthanasia is illegal in the UK. But while doctors are not allowed by law to deliberately help someone who’s terminally ill to die, they may administer medicines, such as morphine, that ease a patient’s suffering and – as an unavoidable side effect – also possibly shorten their life. It’s what they call deep sedation, apparently.

After analysing the questionnaires, the researchers discovered those doctors who described themselves as non-religious were around 40 percent more likely to administer deep sedation than those who declared themselves to be religious. And that’s the finding that’s causing all the hooh-hah today.

Doctors and campaigners, says the BBC, are concerned about the report – and rightly so. There should be no difference in medical practices between doctors, wherever and whoever they are. Sure, some doctors are more gifted than others, some have a better bedside manner. But religion shouldn’t change the way a doctor practises. Moral dilemmas just shouldn’t come into it. Or am I being naive?

If this study bursts open the euthanasia argument, then I for one am all for it. Having lost more than one close family member to a terminal illness, I personally have very strong views on the subject – but that’s not up for discussion today. I dare say, however, there’s a lot of work to be done in this area before any kind of decision is taken. In the meantime, if you are concerned about what might happen to you in your last days – whether you’re religious or non-religious – I recommend asking your doctor right now where they stand on this subject. It’s hardly something you want to find out about when it’s too late, is it?