Monday, April 16, 2007

From the Morning Mail: A New Resource

I sometimes find new and exciting things in my morning email. This was one of those mornings. Today I received notice of the new website of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University. This involves work at both Duke Divinity School and Duke Medical School. I would be interested if all I knew was that Harold Koenig, MD, was involved. Dr. Koenig is the best known leader in research on correlations between religious and spiritual practice and physical and behavioral health.

But the site has more to offer than that. For example, I looked at the section on Research and Publications, to be pointed to “Religiousness and spiritual support among advanced cancer patients and associations with end-of-life treatment preferences and quality of life.” (Journal of Clinical Oncology 25:555-560). Through our System’s Health Sciences Library I was able to access the article on line; but any good academic library should be able to get you a copy through interlibrary loan.

There I found some interesting and disturbing information. To quote from the abstract:

Most (88%) of the study population (N = 230) considered religion to be at least somewhat important. Nearly half (47%) reported that their spiritual needs were minimally or not at all supported by a religious community, and 72% reported that their spiritual needs were supported minimally or not at all by the medical system. Spiritual support by religious communities or the medical system was significantly associated with patient QOL [quality of life].

This is disturbing to me, and should be disturbing for all of us. The data was taken from a larger study involving patients and (unpaid) caregivers in Connecticut, New York, and Texas. Five major cancer centers participated. My point is that the study sample is a pretty varied group, and not geographically or culturally narrow. So when it says almost three quarters aren’t feeling support from the medical system, that’s important to me as a chaplain. When it says nearly half aren’t feeling meaningful support from their religious communities, that’s important to all of us. That’s especially true when there’s a strong correlation in the group between feeling supported and experiencing a better quality of life.

The article is just data. It doesn’t get into why we may be failing large percentages of our patients or our parishioners or our siblings in faith. But it’s data we need to consider as we continue to discover our individual roles in carrying forward the care for the sick that is a part of every faith tradition – at least of every one I’m aware of. We need always to be considering how we might show compassion, and how we might show it better next time than we have before.

And that, of course, is the value of a resource such as the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. I commend the center and the site to your attention. I think you’ll find a lot there that’s worthwhile.

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