Death, dying and informatics: misrepresenting religion on MedLine
1 Division of Medical Ethics, Weill Medical College of Cornell University in Qatar (WCMC-Q). P.O. Box 24144, Education City, Doha, Qatar
2 Division of Medical Ethics, Weill Medical College of Cornell University (WMCCU), New York, USA
BMC Medical Ethics 2005, 6:6 doi:10.1186/1472-6939-6-6Published: 1 July 2005
The globalization of medical science carries for doctors worldwide a correlative duty to deepen their understanding of patients' cultural contexts and religious backgrounds, in order to satisfy each as a unique individual. To become better informed, practitioners may turn to MedLine, but it is unclear whether the information found there is an accurate representation of culture and religion. To test MedLine's representation of this field, we chose the topic of death and dying in the three major monotheistic religions.
We searched MedLine using PubMed in order to retrieve and thematically analyze full-length scholarly journal papers or case reports dealing with religious traditions and end-of-life care. Our search consisted of a string of words that included the most common denominations of the three religions, the standard heading terms used by the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (NRCBL), and the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) used by the National Library of Medicine. Eligible articles were limited to English-language papers with an abstract.
We found that while a bibliographic search in MedLine on this topic produced instant results and some valuable literature, the aggregate reflected a selection bias. American writers were over-represented given the global prevalence of these religious traditions. Denominationally affiliated authors predominated in representing the Christian traditions. The Islamic tradition was under-represented.
MedLine's capability to identify the most current, reliable and accurate information about purely scientific topics should not be assumed to be the same case when considering the interface of religion, culture and end-of-life care.