July 4, 2009
Doctors vote down right to pray
by Sara Levy
Doctors have rejected proposals that would have given them the right to pray for patients.
Delegates at the British Medical Association (MA) conference in Liverpool considered the merits of allowing doctors to discuss spiritual issues with patients, but ultimately voted down the proposals.
The decision follows guidance issued earlier this year by the Department of Health warning doctors not to discuss religion with patients.
The DoH said speaking about matters of faith could be interpreted as proselytising, which in turn could be seen as harassment.
This is the standard government line on religion in healthcare.
The government has always maintained that providing spiritual care is the job of the NHS Chaplaincy Service.
According to the General Medical Council code, doctors can discuss religion with patients and even pray for patients if asked to do so, provided the patient’s wishes are respected.
However, a number of NHS Trusts have started taking an iron-fisted approach to the practice.
Last year NHS nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended by the North Somerset NHS Trust because she offered to pray for a patient.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the BMA’s decision was “very sensible”.
“The restrictions are there for a very important reason,” Sanderson said.
“[They] protect patients from embarrassment, irritation and possible conflict with their doctor.”
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