World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) edition:8 location:Lleida (Spain) date:5-7 June 2014
Aim: India is renowned for its profound religious and philosophical thought. Yet, the day-to-day religious life of many Indians revolves around devotion to a personal God. A terminal illness might pose a serious challenge to faith in God. We wanted to know how this faith fares among Indian palliative-care patients.
Study design: We opted for an ethnographic approach (participant observation). Fieldwork was undertaken from February until October 2012 at a palliative-care unit of a tertiary cancer hospital in North India. 31 patients formally consented to participate in the study. Research notes were made on the basis of the presenting author’s repeated interactions with the patients, their relatives and the treating physicians and nurses, and observations on the ward. The researchers had access to the patients’ medical files. The notes were analysed using conventional content analysis.
Results: Commonly Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Sikh patients expressed their faith in a loving God who helps his devotees and would eventually also cure the patient’s disease. This faith was not rarely actively nurtured by relatives who fearing that loss of hope for a cure would hasten the patient’s death attempted to prevent the patient from considering death as an imminent possibility. In this way, the combination of a specific religious faith and contextual factors made acceptance of diagnosis and prognosis difficult. Moreover, the fact that the hoped-for cure did not materialize, at some point made patients to wonder in despair whether God had forsaken them or did not exist.
Conclusion: Faith in God can be a source of hope and consolation for Indian palliative-care patients. However, under certain circumstances this faith can lead to a crisis which may substantially contribute to a patient’s emotional burden in the last stage of his or her disease. These observations should be taken into consideration while treating and counseling patients of Indian origin in palliative care.