In Sickness and in Health

“Doctors want right to talk faith” according to an item on the BBC health page about a BMA conference. The piece starts:

Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them. (from the BBC website)

Doctors? Do NHS “doctors”, in general, feel that they have so much spare consultation time on their hands that they need to fill it with philosophical discussion? Well, no.

It’s those pesky members of organisations like Christian Voice, again. In this case it’s the “Christian Medical Fellowship”

The CMF web page title says :”a Christian perspective on Working Overseas, Ethics, Christian Apologetics, Abortion, Evangelism, Faith in Practice and Medical Training” This is too big to show in a browser title bar but you have to admire how comprehensively it gives the flavour of their interests.

They claim to represent 4,500 British doctors. (Scary, huh, if true?) The centrality of proselytizing to their goals can be seen in the literature offered by HealthServe, their overseas mission wing.

Isa Masih, meaning ‘Jesus the Messiah’, was published from July 1996 – April 1999. These back issues contain news from the Muslim world and resources for Christian students who are working towards bringing the good news of Jesus the Messiah to Muslims in universities and other tertiary institutions worldwide. …

What’s spurred their efforts to influence the BMA was the case of a Somerset nurse who offered to pray for a patient, was suspended then reinstated.

This is the sort of issue that the rabid wing of Christianity loves to make much of, and the media love to treat their complaints as news. (Auxiliary nurses told not to wear crosses and all that.) All following a goal of making religious fanaticism seem mainstream and “Christianity” under threat.

A mainstream CofE vicar (debating the issue with a man from the National Secular Society on BBC Breakfast) was aware that an unsolicited offer to pray for a patient would make her seem like the angel of death.

How much more terrifying to a sick person, if the volunteer pray-er is the doctor or nurse who is treating a patient?

If they really think prayer works, wtf can’t they just go off and do it without having to involve the prayee?

I will charitably pretend that they don’t just want to add numbers to a roll of converts (although this is the likeliest explanation for this evangelising) and that they really want to help people. In that case they must instinctively know that any efficacy of prayer comes from the power of suggestion. The prayers, crosses, and so on, are magical rituals and charms that rely on the expectations of the target.

The placebo effect, if it helps anyone get better. However, even the suggestion that your medical professional wants to pray for you would have a pretty definite nocebo effect on anyone, as it suggests that your doctor thinks you are beyond earthly hope.

of course, as the Chaplain pointed out the other day, if Christians really believed in heaven, why would the sick bother trying to stay alive? Or why would believing doctors be so cruel as to try to keep people away from their happy-ever-after afterlife?

One thought on “In Sickness and in Health

  1. I happened to see your post and wondered if I might comment. I’ve seen the news reporting on this, all of it fairly hostile too. But if I understand the situation correctly, all this reporting has been misleading.

    The doctors don’t want some new right. They don’t want to evangelise the dying. It’s much more simple than that. We have all sorts of laws being invented to stifle free speech at the moment, and Health Authorities are taking a lead from them.

    What the doctors are afraid of is being arrested if they make some innocuous remark. There have been several instances of people being dismissed or subjected to “investigation” for doing pretty innocuous things.

    Nobody wants some god-botherer in their face. That’s not the issue, as I understand it, but the reverse. There is a real risk that any member of the world’s largest religion who says “Jesus” (except as a curse) may be punished; and naturally, they want some protection against some over-officious PC bigot.

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