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J R Soc Med. 2004 July; 97(7): 357.
PMCID: PMC1079540

Caring for Dying People of Different Faiths.

Reviewed by Suzanne Kite

Third edition
Julia Neuberger
104 pp Price: £19.95 ISBN 0-85775-945-1 (p/b)
Abingdon: Radcliffe Medical Press, 2003 .

Ten years since last revision, Caring for Dying People of Different Faiths has been extended to encompass African and Afro-Caribbean, Japanese and humanist beliefs and customs. Although written for nurses it makes valuable reading for all health professionals caring for dying patients. Most of us will die in hospital, receiving care from professionals from a wide spectrum of faiths, beliefs and cultural backgrounds—just as now we provide care to a very diverse patient population. We would not expect those caring for us in the future to make assumptions about our beliefs and wishes, and the same applies to our patients today. The beliefs of those from any particular religious group also vary widely, even amongst family groups. Given this, what can this book hope to achieve?

First, by sketching the background to a range of religions and philosophies, and the implications for dying and death, this book has the potential to widen our conceptions of how others cope and find meaning at the end of life. Such understanding may make sense of some of the choices patients make, or the expectations of their families, that may at times appear strange or incomprehensible to us. Similarly, it may cast light on the attitudes and approaches of our professional colleagues. Broadening our awareness in this way has the potential to enhance the decision-making process regarding end-of-life care, and enable us to seek appropriate support for patients and their carers at this time. The implications of certain religious beliefs for medical treatment decisions are outlined, and it is emphasized that the remit for religious and spiritual care extends well beyond the hospital chaplain and our nursing colleagues.

Secondly, with its practical focus the book offers concrete examples of the physical care and rituals that patients and families may expect during the terminal phase, at the time of death, and through into the bereavement period. Getting such details right at this highly sensitive and significant time is crucial. A delay in burial due to the unavailability of a death certificate, for example, or the failure to handle a body after death according to particular religious requirements (including routine nursing care), may cause profound and lasting distress.

I strongly recommend this book to all professionals caring for dying patients. It promises to increase awareness and insight for everyday clinical care, and is a useful introduction for those wishing to explore more theoretical aspects. Beyond this, it is of specific interest to physicians for two reasons. First, a greater understanding of the beliefs of dying people of different faiths aids those medical decisions at the end of life which are so dependent upon individual goals and preferences. Secondly, no matter how good clinical care has been for however long, difficulties and undue distress during the period of dying will be the memories that remain with those close to the patient, and even a little knowledge can enhance a fitting end.

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press