Pray for me, Doc!
I received a few emails this morning asking me to discuss this BBCNews article. Some doctors in Britain are worried spiritual issues aren’t being addressed, and care is suffering as a result. They are demanding that staff be given the right to talk about religion, as well as allow them to offer prayers to patients.
The problem here is there is always a fine line between talking about religion, and proselytizing it to people. Sure, many of these patients may actually like being offered to be prayed for (especially as the aging population find themselves increasingly in their care), but it’s impossible to distinguish between individuals who want it, and those who feel obligated for fear their care could be affected if they refuse. Besides, all of the best studies on prayer suggests patients who are told they are being prayed for have more complications than those who aren’t prayed for. Presumably it’s because they might construe prayer as an indication their conditions are more serious and life threatening (prayer is often the last tactic of the desperate).
The NHS already pays for chaplains to be on call (in fact, the cost of these preachers could hire an additional 1,300 nurses in the country), so the spiritual needs of patients can be met if they so desire. The real issue here is these people hate the fact they cannot talk about religion at all at their workplace. One nurse complained the staff would not allow her to wear her cross, but this was because of health reasons. There’s a very profound reason why we secularize public services; bringing religion into the mix causes conflict, and there is no room for ideologues in hospitals. Their priority is to heal the sick, not pray for them.
The real concern of patients is getting better; not being proselytized to. Sure, there are those who undoubtedly would find such a thing comforting, but you’ll usually find family members and friends can more easily provide spiritual guidance and needs better than a stranger can.
Just don’t pray in my hospital and I won’t try to teach medical science in your churches. That’s fair, isn’t it?