Within the hospice and palliative care movement, patients’ religion/spirituality (R/S) has been a core component of care incorporated within international and US palliative care guidelines. However, as the discipline of palliative care has been incorporated into the larger biomedical community, the inclusion of spiritual care has become controversial. This review summarizes key empirical research at the intersection of palliative care and R/S in order to assess its validity as a domain of end-of-life care.
Recent research shows that R/S and spiritual care are important components to the care of patients facing advanced illness. Patients – particularly ethnic minorities – rely upon R/S as an important means to interpret and cope with illness. Studies suggest that R/S plays an important role in coping with disease-related symptoms, improves quality of life, and impacts medical decision-making near death. Patients largely desire medical caregivers to take an active role in providing spiritual care, and patients likewise frequently experience multiple spiritual needs arising in the face of life-threatening illness.
Despite an empirical evidence for spiritual care as part of palliative care, R/S remains insufficiently addressed by the medical system. Further research is required in order to more clearly identify the roles of healthcare providers and standardize the provision of spiritual care within palliative care.
aCenter for Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research
bDepartment of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston
cHarvard Divinity School, Cambridge
dHarvard Medical School, Boston
eDepartment of Radiation Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Correspondence to Tracy A. Balboni, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology, Harvard Medical School, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Dana 1101, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. E-mail: TBalboni@LROC.Harvard.edu