Friday, August 27, 2010

A doctor's faith

When I choose a doctor, I look at their credentials, not their religious affiliations. I’ve never even considered the faith of my doctor. Nine years ago, I remember being asked by my primary care doctor if I wanted to talk to a priest, pastor, or a professional counselor. He had just delivered news that if true meant the end of my life. I remember appreciating that he gave me options. If I needed to talk to somebody, I had the information I needed to make the call. He’s a good doctor, and I’ve forgiven him for the whole misdiagnosis with leukemia episode in our relationship (I’m not kidding).

When my dad was near the end of his life in the hospital, I could sense that the doctors were trying too prolong his life as long as possible. We had to ask them to stop. They did. Religion did not enter the discussion, except when they advised us that the end was near. They too offered the help of a pastor or social worker.

These examples, and others from my life, lead me to think of doctors without their religion being a factor. Yet a new study shows that the devoutly religious may treat end of life decision different than the norm.
Read in isolation, the headline of the Guardian's report into newly published research on doctors' attitudes and behaviour ("Atheist doctors 'more likely to hasten death'") might lead you to think that there are a bunch of humanist physicians poised, with potassium chloride-filled syringes, over the bedside of sick patients. However, the article itself informed us that the problem did not appear to lie with the average atheist doctor but rather with the average very religious doctor.
I came away with the impression that that devoutly religious would act to preserve life in the face of certain death. Even if the decision were against the wishes of the patient or family. It’s a tortured by medicine approach that I find objectionable.

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