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Responding to patients’ religious narratives at the end of life
  1. Helen Scott, Staff Nurse and
  2. Rev Peter Speck
  1. Helen Scott is Editor, End of Life Care, Bank Staff Nurse, St Christopher’s Hospice, London, and is currently undertaking an MSc in Palliative Care, Department of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King’s College London, and Rev Peter Speck is Honorary Senior Lecturer, Department of Palliative Care, Policy and Rehabilitation, King’s College London, and a former healthcare chaplain

Abstract

Spiritual care is considered to be the role of all healthcare professionals. Consequently, an increasing evidence base is being created in relation to spirituality in health care. However, less is known about how best to respond to people who have religious beliefs and use religious vocabulary to articulate spiritual and existential concerns and hopes. Some practitioners find it difficult to understand religious narratives and, at times, consider them harmful, particularly when they relate to miracles. This article explores the link between spirituality and religion, the way in which some patients respond to life-limiting illness and forthcoming death, the role of illness and religious narratives in patients’ search for life’s meaning and the responses of healthcare professionals to patients’ religious worldviews. It concludes that it is not individual belief systems, such as religion, that cause harm. If harm exists, it occurs when practitioners are judgmental of patients’ individual belief systems. Two case scenarios provide examples of how nurses can respond to patients’ religious distress at the end of life. Conflicts of interest: none

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