Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Prayer in a Petri(e) dish

I was watching The Wright Stuff this morning, and they were discussing the case of Nurse Petrie, (which is an excellent name for a medical professional, by the way, well done!) who is currently on suspension after asking a patient if she wanted her to pray with/for her.

There's a bit of a hubbub about this as it seems a fairly innocuous suggestion, but of course, it's about whether this breaks nursing guidelines regarding the promotion of personal faiths, ie. a patient should not be importuned by someone in a position of care/trust over them while they are vulnerable. It's one thing to have vicars and other spiritual types mooching about hospitals should they be asked for, it would be very different if a doctor, nurse or carer uses the opportunity to evangelise.

Not that this is necessarily what Nurse Petrie's actions amounted to, but this has to be the reason for the rule in nursing.

They had her, Caroline Petrie, on a phone-in, and she sounded a jolly nice woman. I was interested to discover that this was not the first incident, however. She had previously been asked not to give out prayer cards, which she described as "giving out Christian literature".

This first incident was clearly out of a nurse's remit, since doling out religious literature is promotion of a faith, whichever way you cut it. Something for the spare time, not work, unless you're a vicar, in which case it is your work. Presumably she stopped this activity after being called on it, and so, good, incident closed. But it does mean that this next complaint coming afterwards will be treated more seriously than perhaps it would have as a one-off; it comes from a background of blurring the boundaries.

So where do I stand with this business of "would you like me to pray for you?" Well, I wouldn't want her to lose her job over it, but unlike Matthew Wright, I don't think it's a polite question.

It's a loaded question (partly "crikey, this is serious and you're gonna die!" haha), and also is intrusive: as a nurse on a home visit, I don't think it's one she should be asking. She is in authority, coming into someone's home, presumably because that person is dependent on nurses and carers. It's not a sinister thing, but it's inappropriate. It puts the patient in a bit of an awkward position where refusing is making a big deal of it and might disappoint the nice nurse (unless the patient was my gran, in which case she'd angrily refuse treatment, but probably accept the prayer). Better perhaps to ask if they have access to religious services if they want them, along with any other needs, if "spiritual health" is the worry?

I'm quite happy for someone to practise their faith and I've no doubt that Caroline Petrie was coming out of a good place, but you don't practise your faith in someone else's home. It's not about her freedom to express herself, it's about doing it in a patient's home and in work-time, to me.


Anonymous said...

I'm very tempted to write a few words on this myself.

I think that she's gone way beyond the realms of appropriate professional behaviour here. She's perfectly entitled to her views, but but but, she's looking after vulnerable people and being religious/spiritual in that, when not invited to be so, is inappropriate and it is right for her employers to call her on it, especially because she's been in trouble over it before. If she wants to bring her faith to her work, she could always train to be a hospital chaplain - it's a valuable role and I'm sure they're crying out for more of them.

A lot of Christians are crying persecution here, which pisses me off because it's nothing of the kind. It's someone who has ignored a warning about inappropriate behaviour at work and is now paying the perfectly logical price for that. As such, I have very little sympathy for her and I think she's been somewhat misguided and naive, which are sadly accusations that you can throw at lots of Christians. I say that as one myself, before anyone starts....

Mephitis said...

It doesn't seem much like persecution to me either, simply expecting her to stick to nursing rules. But the papers love this sort of thing.

Matt said...

Personally, I'm happy to "cry persecution", even if if Nurse Petrie broke the rules of her profession. Certainly, it's nowhere near big-P Persecution -- being tortured or killed for your faith, as occurs in other parts of the world. Still, she has been threatened with the very real and not-inconsequential prospect of losing her job...for what? Simply offering to pray for a patient who (by her own ready admission) was not offended by the offer? Just because a rule exists, and you know the rule, doesn't mean that breaking the rule merits punishment. I'm sure I don't have to trot out examples of unjust laws to make my point.

I believe the nursing rules are broken, or at least, their application is faulty. It's clear some guidelines must exist to protect patients from inappropriate manipulation. However the application of those rules in this case goes beyond common sense. The potential harm, and certainly the actual harm, caused by Nurse Petrie's actions here are non-existent. On other hand, the actual harm caused to Mrs Petrie is real and tangible -- she has already been suspended without pay, and faces further negative sanctions.

Mephitis said...

While it does seem heavy-handed, it isn't coming from out of the blue, as I said, Nurse Petrie had previously been in trouble regarding handing out Christian literature. So it's not as though it was an isolated incident and I think that does make a significant difference.

She also stated in the interview on the Wright Stuff that she would continue to break the guidelines in this way, if back at work.

As for offence caused etc, well, the patient was bothered enough by it to bring it up with another nurse, otherwise it would never have got to this stage. If it was completely fine by her, it would never have got any further.

I'd agree the response seems a bit of a blunt instrument, but I'm not sure where else you can go with it. As an isolated incident, a bit of a reprimand would seem more appropriate but it does come out of a history of her overegging the pudding, as it were.

If a patient were to initiate conversation regarding beliefs or ask for prayer, then that would be a very different matter to my mind, but when it is unsolicited, it's out of order.