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The physician's role in the assessment and treatment of spiritual distress at the end of life


Objective: Patients at the end of their life typically endure physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual challenges. Although physicians assume a clearly defined role in approaching the physical aspects of terminal illness, the responsibility for helping their patients' spiritual adaptation is also important.

Methods: This article (1) describes the terms and definitions that have clinical utility in assessing the spiritual needs of dying patients, (2) reviews the justifications that support physicians assuming an active role in addressing the spiritual needs of their patients, and (3) reviews clinical tools that provide physicians with a structured approach to the assessment and treatment of spiritual distress.

Results: This review suggests that physicians can and should be equipped to play a key role in relieving suffering at the end of life.

Significance of results: Physicians can help their patients achieve a sense of completed purpose and peace.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author: Anthony E. Brown, M.D., M.P.H., Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Family and Community Medicine, 3701 Kirby Dr., Suite 600, Houston, TX 77098, USA. E-mail:
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Palliative & Supportive Care
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