Atheist doctors are almost twice as willing to take decisions that speed up a person's death as those who hold deep religious beliefs, research suggests.

A survey of almost 4,000 British doctors also found that those with strong religious beliefs were less likely to discuss with seriously-ill patients treatments that hastened their deaths.

As part of the study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, doctors from a wide range of specialities – including those related to end-of-life care – were asked about their religious views and their care of their last patient who died. Doctors who said they were non-religious were more likely than any other group to have given continuous, deep sedation until death, having taken a decision they knew could or would end a paitent's life.

Those who described themselves as "extremely" or "very non-religious" were almost twice as likely to have taken these kinds of decisions as those with a strong religious belief. They were also more likely to have discussed end-of-life decisions with patients.