Assessment and Reflection on Spiritual Needs for a Terminally Ill Patient

As a coping mechanism, most patients with terminal illnesses turn to their spirituality and religious beliefs. Most of them want their existential and spiritual needs to be met and spiritual support to live a better quality of life. Even patients with long-term chronic illnesses need attention to their spiritual, psychological, and existential needs. Spiritual needs include the desire for peace, social support, and wellbeing, as well as the desire to be happy with one’s life. Spiritual requirements are often linked to anxiety (Bussing & Koenig, 2010). To provide useful care to terminally or chronically ill patients, it is, therefore, important to assess and reflect upon their spiritual needs. This essay presents the results of an interview with Patient G to assess and reflect on his spiritual needs.

To gather the most vital spiritual needs, the important questions to ask during the interview include:

Who or what is the source of your strength and hope?

How do you express your spirituality?

Do you ever use prayer in your life?

What type of spiritual/religious support do you desire?

What do suffering and dying mean to you?

What are your spiritual goals?

How can the church/synagogue help in your situation?

What helps you get through this healthcare experience? (The Joint Commission, 2017).

Analysis of the Interview Experience

Patient G is an attorney and a legal scholar, teaching at a local university law school. He has a teenage son who plays basketball and whose team he coaches on a regular basis. After falling and injuring his hip, following some muscle problems, he sought medical attention and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is a degenerative disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord nerve cells. The diagnosis was confirmed through further examinations. The diagnosis has devastated both Patient G and his family. There are no known medications for ALS and what exist can only help slow down the degeneration. He has been informed by the doctor that he will only live for three to five years, though he was told to hope to live for ten years or longer since there are some people who have been lucky.

Despite all measures that have been taken to encourage him, Patient G still dreads the fact that sooner or later, he will lose his ability to speak, move, eat or even breathe. He fears being totally dependent on others for his daily basic needs and functions, thereby becoming imprisoned in his own body and a bother to his family, and is already considering the option of voluntary euthanasia. Patient G would like to be offered care that is sensitive to his spiritual needs (Bussing & Koenig, 2010).

According to an interview with Patient G to assess his spiritual needs, he explained that he gains strength from his wife’s unwavering support and understanding. Helping his son in his basketball league also gives him purpose and hope. He attends a Pentecostal Christian church and prays daily for courage and focus. When asked how he expresses his spirituality, he stated that he maintains a high level of integrity in his duties and loves all people.

The patient desires to be supported spiritually by being assigned to a caregiver who shares his religious belief who can encourage him constantly and help take his mind from his own suffering to the suffering of others and that of Jesus Christ. The patient understands that suffering is the symptom of the imperfection of life on Earth and should not be reason for alarm. However, he stated that terminal illness is both surprising and traumatizing to him. He believes that dying is only finishing the imperfect life on earth and beginning a perfect life with God. The patient’s spiritual goal is to live a righteous life and keep the laws of God so that he can attain eternal life. Considering the patient’s belief, his church can help in assuring him that by suffering because of the disease, he will get to acknowledge the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made for the sake of all humans. The church members can also encourage and pray with him and for him (The Joint Commission, 2017).

When asked what keeps him going day after day, he explained that he used to rely on prayer and the love of his family. However, since he was diagnosed with ALS, none of the two seem to work for him anymore. The fear of becoming a burden on his family has kept him from fully enjoying their love and support and his worries keep him from devoting himself to meaningful prayer. What helps him to get through his healthcare experience is the fact that as long as the degeneration is slowed down, he will still be able to take care of his wife, son and even himself. After the spiritual needs assessment and reflection, the patient was asked whether he still thinks voluntary euthanasia is still the best option. He stated that he would live for as long as he still can move, but once he loses that ability, he would still like to be assisted to die before he becomes too much of a burden.


Bussing, A. & Koenig, H.G. (2010). Spiritual Needs of Patients with Chronic Diseases. Religions, 1(1): 18-27.

The Joint Commission. (2017). Spiritual Assessment. The Joint Commission.

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