Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Experiences and Expressions of Spirituality at the End of Life in the Intensive Care Unit

RATIONALE: The austere setting of the intensive care unit (ICU) can suppress expressions of spirituality. OBJECTIVES: To describe how family members and clinicians experience and express spirituality during the dying process in a 21-bed medical-surgical ICU. METHODS: Reflecting the care of 70 dying patients, we conducted 208 semistructured qualitative interviews with 76 family members and 150 clinicians participating in the Three Wishes Project. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed by three investigators using qualitative interpretive description. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Participants characterize dying as a spiritual event. Spirituality is an integral part of the life narrative of the patient before, during, and after death. Experiences and expressions of spirituality for patients, families, and clinicians during end-of-life care in the ICU are supported by eliciting and implementing wishes in several ways. Eliciting wishes stimulates conversations for people of diverse spiritual orientations to respond to death in personally meaningful ways that facilitate continuity and closure, and ease emotional trauma. Soliciting wishes identifies positive aspirations, which provide comfort in the face of death. The act of soliciting wishes brings clinician humanity to the fore. Wishing makes individual spiritual preferences and practices more accessible. Wishes may be grounded in spiritual goals, such as peace, comfort, connections, and tributes; they may seek a spiritually enhanced environment or represent specific spiritual interventions. CONCLUSIONS: Family members and clinicians consider spirituality an important dimension of end-of-life care. The Three Wishes Project invites and supports the expression of myriad forms of spirituality during the dying process in the ICU.