Medical ethics is a system of moral principles that guide medical practitioners in making decisions in the interest of their patients. The subject of medical ethics is regarded as complex and controversial because medical specialists are faced with moral dilemmas every day and sometimes have to make difficult choices. One of the issues that medical ethics is concerned with is the relation between medicine and religion. It touches upon the questions of whether a patient’s religious beliefs should be taken into consideration when making medical decisions, and whether religion should be involved in doctor-patient relations.
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The article called “Praying with patients: A Dallas surgeon finds a way to put ministry into practice” discusses the role of religion through the example of medical professionals who incorporate religious beliefs into their practice. It argues that although medicine and religion have never been able to coexist, nowadays more and more doctors are taking their patients’ spirituality into account. Doctors ask patients about their beliefs at initial meetings and encourage them to pray prior to complicated surgeries (Praying with patients, 2013). The article claims that most patients appreciate such initiatives and perceive them as a sign that their doctor actually cares.
I chose to discuss this topic in my essay because of the ambiguity of the question raised in the article. In my opinion, religion is a sensitive subject, and bringing it up in the field of medicine, which has always been in opposition to religion, can raise some moral questions. The virtue ethics approach to moral dilemmas encourages medical specialists to adhere to the principles of flexibility and compassion in recognizing patients’ needs (Gardiner, 2003). However, when religion is concerned, individual differences can be a cause of unnecessary tension.
When the subject of religion is brought up in medical practice, several possible sources of tension can be identified. First, a patient might feel obliged to share the beliefs of the specialist on which their life depends, even though they do not feel like it. Second, bringing the subject of religion in health care practice jeopardizes the doctor’s professional position by mixing personal beliefs with professional values. Third, it might be regarded as a violation of personal boundaries, raising the question of whether it is appropriate to bring the sensitive and controversial issue of personal beliefs when a patient’s life is at risk. Forth, putting medical problems into God’s hands might be perceived as a sign of professional incompetence and lack of confidence, causing patients to question their doctor’s skills.
I think that in medical practice, patients’ religious beliefs can be addressed in a number of ways. Hospitals can build chapels within the premises and invite priests to talk to patients who feel the need for it. I believe that patients’ spiritual needs should be addressed and welcomed, but not pushed upon them. The question of medical specialists’ beliefs should not interfere with their clinical practice.
The relations between medicine and religion are complex and are undergoing substantial changes, with more and more doctors incorporating their personal beliefs into their professional practice. However, if handled inconsiderably, such initiatives can cause unnecessary tension in doctor-patient relationships. While some patients eagerly accept the idea of joining their doctor in prayer prior to a complicated surgery, for others it can cause a feeling of stress and increased anxiety, being perceived as a violation of personal boundaries. I believe that there are other ways to incorporate religion into medical practice, and a careful approach should be taken to prevent any possible tensions.
- Praying with patients: A Dallas surgeon finds a way to put ministry into practice. (2013). The Dallas Morning News. Web.
- Gardiner, P. (2003). A virtue ethics approach to moral dilemmas in medicine. J Med Ethics, 29, pp. 297–302.