The National Secular Society reports that “doctors have voted down a Christian motion at the BMA [British Medical Association] conference that would have given carte blanche for religious medical practitioners to ‘share their faith’ without restraint”.
The NSS’s president, Terry Sanderson, is quoted as saying, “The BMA conference has been very sensible in refusing to give this unfettered permission to religious doctors to offer prayers to patients. The restrictions are there for a very important reason – to protect patients from embarrassment, irritation and possible conflict with their doctor.
“If patients want to raise the issue with their doctor or nurse, that is a different matter, but the initiative should rest entirely with the patient.”
And that is the point. I might feel a bit miffed if a nurse or doctor came up to me while I was nursing my terminal galloping lurgy and offered to pray.
A good bedside manner means, among other things, being a good listener, and, if a patient were to mention that she prayed once a day or missed going to church, it would be appropriate for the medic to use whatever means available to comfort the patient.
That might mean his saying, merely, “Do you get comfort from prayers?”, thus leading the patient to say more, and that could be followed by, “If you like, I can arrange for the chaplain to come and see you.”
Hey presto! The medic is seen as understanding while remaining neutral on the subject of religion, leaving the patient to lead the situation.
While a patient’s possibly weakest moment is not a time to impose unwanted sky-fairy notions on her, it is not a time, either, to refuse to acknowledge that she might find religion comforting – albeit that it would, in the nonreligious person’s eyes, be a placebo.
Whether there should be such creatures as hospital chaplains is, of course, another issue, and one that has been hotly debated.