Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Today the BMA are discussing whether doctors praying for patients should be a disciplinary matter. This is a sort of reprise of the problem with Nurse Petrie.

The Wright Stuff had the topic this morning and I was surprised at how strongly I reacted against it initially, (but then it was phrased slightly differently to the Guardian's more considered piece).

However, I just don't think prayer is the business of doctors, and I don't think it's an appropriate time or setting. In hospitals, there are already chapels and visiting services, so that a patient can ask for a priest or rabbi or whatever. I mean, in these times of economic constraint, do we really want to put vicars out of work?!

A doctor, even more so than a nurse, is in a position of trust and authority over the patient: you're relying on their knowledge and skills to help you get better. It's hard to say no to a doctor, and often there's a feeling of indebtedness/gratitude towards the people who are caring for you (not always of course, given stats of violence against the emergency services, but often). When you're ill and vulnerable is not the time to be made to feel socially awkward unnecessarily.

And it does feel awkward to turn something down that is kindly meant. The alternative is to go along with it (graciously) when you don't want it, and that's an imposition and you feel a hypocrite.

Matthew Wright kept going on about the 50% of the population who apparently pray regularly potentially liking a shift that allowed doctors to pray with them, but where does that leave the other 50%? Potentially feeling put upon and less than. Why should the latter group's wishes be of less consequence than the former's, especially when religious facilities can be accessed in hospitals anyway, so believers aren't being denied anything?

I think it's OK for a medical professional to ask their patient if they feel they'd want a priest (or whatever) to visit them, because that gives a bit of distance where the patient can refuse (or accept) without feeling they are rebuffing that person. Offering to pray with them directly is a step too far, it's too personal and can feel like rejecting the person rather than the offer. Unless it's something that patient initiates, then it seems to me that doctors should keep their prayers private.

So I guess the answer I come to is that I do think that it should be a disciplinary matter. I wouldn't want anyone sacked over it, but I think it crosses a boundary that's there for good reasons, and if if that happens it's appropriate to intervene.

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