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Palliative care and spiritual care: the crucial role of spiritual care in the care of patients with advanced illness

El Nawawi, Nora M.a; Balboni, Michael J.a,b,c; Balboni, Tracy A.a,b,d,e

Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care: June 2012 - Volume 6 - Issue 2 - p 269–274
doi: 10.1097/SPC.0b013e3283530d13
PSYCHOSOCIAL CARE IN PATIENTS WITH METASTATIC CANCERS: Edited by Ben W. Corn, Mary Vachon and Harvey M. Chochinov

Purpose of review 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 findings 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.

Summary 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:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.