Each religion has a unique view on how hospice and other end-of-life care should be handled; and there are certain beliefs and traditions which factor into how the patient should be cared for. Spirituality is very important to those leaving this life and must be handled properly. The ways that Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist patients who are terminally ill should be treated varies greatly.
Christians on Hospice
Christians are the originators of the hospice movement. As an alternative to a more impersonal hospital death, hospice allows the patients to die in a caring environment where both their physical and spiritual needs are met. Christians place a high value on not allowing the dying to be lonely. Christians will want to meet with a chaplain for confession, prayer, and consolation. The use of painkillers should be balanced with the spiritual need to pray and repent for sins. They are strongly against euthanasia and believe it to be misguided. Life is a gift from God and must be preserved if possible. When death is near, a priest should be there to perform the last rites.
Judaism on Hospice
Before a Jewish patient dies, they will want to see as many of their family and friends as possible. There will likely be many visitors and accommodations like kosher meals must be prepared, especially if is on the Sabbath, when Jews are not allowed to travel and may have to stay the night. There are ceremonies a Jewish person is supposed to do before they die, many of them in the presence of a rabbi.
Judaism has complex views on end-of-life care. If there is uncertainty, a rabbi should be contacted for advice. Euthanasia is forbidden. If a medicine can help save a patient’s life, they are required to take it. However, in Judaism, when a patient is terminally ill and is expected to die within 72 hours, there is a requirement to neither hasten or delay death. In Judaism, if a resuscitation attempt is likely to save a life, it must be carried out.
Muslims on Hospice
While terminally ill, Muslims still have a requirement to pray five times a day if they are conscious and able. The patient must completely clean for these prayers. Until it is too difficult to do so, they will want to get on their knees and pray towards Mecca after washing their face, forearms, and feet. If they have not completed the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, during their lifetime, they should be allowed to if they’re healthy enough. There is also a smaller pilgrimage, called the Omrah, which takes a few hours to complete and is a second option for Muslim patients.
Modesty is very important to Muslims. A male should care for a male and a female should care for a female. If body parts must be cleaned, as little of the clothing should be removed as possible, and private parts should not be revealed unless necessary.
Buddhists on Hospice
During hospice care, a Buddhist will want quiet and calm. They should be given a room away from busy areas, and interrupted time to practice prayer and meditation. It is important to Buddhists to be alert at the time of death. Some Buddhists may refuse opiate medications for this reason. The ideal way for a Buddhist to die is in complete silence while performing special meditative practices. This means if a family member or other loved one is too upset during the death, they will likely leave the room so as not to disturb the dying Buddhist’s peace. Buddhists want to be calm so that they can perform prayers, meditation, and chants. If the patient wants, an altar or shrine with incense should be set up in the room.
Atheists on Hospice
Atheists are unique in that they have more positive views on euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide. Atheists see no reason someone should continue to suffer if they are terminally ill and in severe pain. In fact, they resent laws that restrict the freedom of the patient to choose when to end his or her life.
Atheists view death as on off-switch that permanently ends consciousness. Therefore, they are not interested in any rituals or prayers to prepare for the afterlife. Their lack of religious belief should be respected and no religious ceremonies need be performed. Chaplains should not come in and try to do prayers with them; as positive as their intentions may be, it will not be appreciated. It is perfectly okay to ask an atheist if they want to see someone like a chaplain, but refusals must be respected.