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Faith And Medicine: Do They Mix?

20/12/2010 17:08 | Updated 22 May 2015

Personally I don't give a monkey's if you're religious, agnostic or atheist. You can pray to God, Allah, the sun, moon or Obi Wan Kenobi. It's all good as far as I'm concerned. So why should I mind if my doctor has religious views?

If you've been reading the newspapers lately, you'll no doubt have noticed there's a heated debate going on in the medical ethics world. And it's all because of a new study that says your doctor's religious views could affect the care they give you, especially in your final days.

"How could any doctor allow their religious beliefs to condemn a patient to suffer unnecessarily?"

According to the study, doctors who claim they're religious are less likely to give you powerful pain-relieving drugs - typically morphine - that might ease your suffering while you're dying. Yes, less likely.

But non-religious doctors are more likely to administer morphine (in the medical world it's called deep sedation). But the problem is while it frees you from pain, deep sedation may also shorten your life (deep sedation isn't the same as euthanasia - that's deliberately helping someone to die and illegal in this country).

When I read the news, it really touched a nerve. How could any doctor allow their religious beliefs to condemn a patient to suffer unnecessarily?

If that patient has the same views - that life should be prolonged regardless - then fair enough. But the survey also shows doctors with strong religious views are less likely to discuss end-of-life care issues with terminally-ill patients - whether or not they should be resuscitated or tube-fed, for instance. Without having this discussion, how would they even know what their patients' views are? And as long as their conscience remains clear, do they even care?

"I joined the Voluntary Euthanasia Society when my father-in-law died of cancer ten years ago."

By now you've probably guessed which side of the euthanasia debate I stand on. I joined the Voluntary Euthanasia Society when my father-in-law died of cancer ten years ago. It was not a good death.

Then when my own father was diagnosed with terminal cancer a few years later, the thought of him having to go through what my father-in-law suffered scared the hell out of me. My dad died five years ago, but it couldn't have been more different to the way my father-in-law died. Because my dad didn't suffer in the end at all

So was my dad's doctor non-religious? I'll never know for sure. Did they give him deep sedation? Almost certainly. But to say I'm grateful to that doctor for helping my dad die with dignity is an understatement.

Look, it's simple really. Doctors should offer the same care, whoever they are, wherever they are and whatever their beliefs. I'm not saying they're not entitled to their views, religious or otherwise. But shouldn't their faith come a firm second to the dying wishes of patients and their families?

Moral dilemmas are part and parcel of being a doctor. So shouldn't those who can't handle them simply not put themselves in the position where their faith is put to the test?

That's my opinion, and I couldn't feel more strongly about it. What's yours?

By: Christine Morgan

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