The Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association writes about:
the research that demonstrated that patients who are prayed for, and know that they are, have worse outcomes than patients who are not prayed for or don't know that they are.
The classic response to "research shows", of course, is "which research" and "what about research that might show something a bit different and that you are not telling me about"? But this quotation has another hidden assumption: what is meant by a "worse outcome"? Is "outcome" measured solely in terms of the material "outcome"? Or does it allow for the "spiritual"? And if the research being referred to was commissioned by the British Humanist Society ....
1. Most hospitals do have multi-faith chaplaincy arrangements, and spiritual care is an accepted part of the support available to patients during their hospital stay. Spiritual care can vary from simple visiting to prayer and Sacramental ministry. It seems to me that there should be no difficulty in clinical staff (nurses, doctors and other medical professionals) asking a patient if they have a religious faith and, in the case of a positive response, asking if they would like a visit from an appropriate chaplain. The present environment of "patient confidentiality", and the anti-religious content of equalities policies, are having an unfortunate consequence in deterring clinical staff from having these simple conversations with their patients.
2. So far as I can gather, patients who have no religious faith are very often appreciative of a visit from a hospital visitor or chaplain- even if the conversation lasts only a few brief moments, and has absolutely no religious content. It seems that the British Humanist Society are doing their best to remove this valued service to patients.
3. Rather than trying to discourage clinical staff from raising the question of spiritual and religious care with their patients, I think we should encourage them to do so, and to provide the frameworks of chaplaincy to which they can refer patients in appropriate circumstances.
4. It should be absolutely clear that, in the relationship between patient and clinical professional, the purpose is the advising and consent to a course of scientifically competent physical treatment. The provision of religious care to those patients who wish it does not contradict the provision of perfectly competent physical care - which is the quite misleading suggestion of the last paragraph of the second letter in today's Times:
... if Christian medics say they will pray for the sick, theoretically the sick do not need him or her to be a doctor.
5. Why should the concept of spiritual care, generally accepted in hospitals, not be extended to care environments outside of hospitals - Primary Care Trusts etc?