The House of Lords and the British tradition of choice in healthcare…

The House of Lords debates

In The House of Lords last week The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health, Earl Howe, was responding to questions about a particular non-western approach to healthcare…

There were those Lords who approved of it (Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for instance), those who didn’t (Lord Taverne), those who wanted only a light touch for the regulation about to be proposed for it (Baroness Pitkeathley) and those who wanted to attest personally to its effectiveness. In the latter case, Baroness Sharples said “Is the noble Earl aware that I owe my good health to [it]?”

To which the noble Earl replied, with typically British cordiality, “My Lords, that news is a source of pleasure to me and I am sure to the whole House.”

No, this wasn’t a discussion about Christian Science – the subject of this blog site – although a similar discussion could well have taken place. It was a discussion about herbal medicine.

Towards the end of the discussion, Baroness Browning inquired if Earl Howe knew about certain GPs (General Practitioners) who actually grow their own herbs for medicinal purposes in the garden of their practices.

The Earl Howe gave an unequivocating answer, “My Lords, it is a long-standing practice and tradition in this country that medical professionals should be able to take it upon themselves to prescribe freely, as they see fit, in the interests of the particular patient in front of them.”

How civilised we British can be – allowed to exercise the freedom to choose what works best for us!

So what about that other non-western “medicine”, Christian Science – an approach to healthcare whose adherents generally rely on an exclusively God-centred spiritual approach to healing? Well, yes, adults are free to choose to decline medical care in favour of Christian Science healing in this country, as was clearly spelled out by then Cabinet Minister Douglas Alexander in a Hansard-recorded discussion on the Civil Contingencies Act 2005. (See Assurances Given For Adults’ Right To Forego Medical Treatment Given By Cabinet Minister In Regard To Civil Contingencies Act 2004see Column Number: 269)

And do doctors sometimes see fit to prescribe Christian Science to their patients?

Well, not quite prescribe. The healing prayer whose effectiveness Jesus evidenced in the laboratory of everyday life is not really a prescribable entity. But individual doctors can – and in many instances have – recommended Christian Science to their patients. Not as a religious choice, but as a healthcare option to be seriously considered.

I first found out about Christian Science (not via a medical practitioner!) three decades ago. Since then I have encountered individuals whose family has come to practise Christian Science as their first choice of addressing physical needs (sometimes for several generations) because of some family member initially being introduced to it by a doctor who felt he/she could do no more for them and who then suggested they seek out the help of a Christian Science practitioner.

Why would a doctor do that? Would it just have been desperation because western medicine didn’t have all the answers, as can be the case? Or could it have been because they had seen some impressive result through its practice on behalf of other patients who had been given no hope until experiencing the power of divine Love explained in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy?

A colleague of mine used to have a stock answer for people when he told them he was a Christian Scientist, if they would say, “Oh, you’re the people who don’t believe in doctors!” He would joke with them and say, “No, that’s not right…we are the people who doctors don’t believe in!”

Fortunately there are those who do…just as it is true that Christian Scientists respect members of the medical profession.  As Mary Baker Eddy put it “A genuine Christian Scientist loves Protestant and Catholic, D.D. and M.D., — loves all who love God, good; and he loves his enemies. It will be found that, instead of opposing, such an individual subserves the interests of both medical faculty and Christianity, and they thrive together, learning that Mind-power is good will towards men.” (Miscellany, p. 4)

Medical professionals and practitioners of Christian Science share the same motive, to help others maintain or regain their health and well-being, even if the means chosen are very different. It is important that the eminently sensible British tradition of respecting the individual choice of healthcare prevails into the future and that we recognise and reverse the proclivity towards The Medicalisation of Normality, as Health journalist John Naish so poignantly and pertinently put it on BBC Radio 4, not so long ago.

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Categories: Legislation

Author:Tony Lobl

I write on spirituality and health for a diversity of online media outlets, from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I have been published by the Independent, the Washington Post, the Guardian, E-Hospice, MindBodyGreen and The Christian Science Monitor and I post regularly on the Huffington Post UK and BuzzFeed. In addition to writing and broadcast appearances I enjoy engaging with journalists, academics, health professionals and government officials about the possibilities for improving health outcomes through a greater emphasis on spirituality in healthcare and social care. I've also greatly valued the many opportunities I have had to travel globally for my church and to meet people around the world. My wife Jenny and I spent 10 years in Boston, USA, before returning to London in 2002, to take on a role as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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  1. | The Connection - May 27, 2011

    [...] House of Lords and the British tradition of choice in healthcare… Posted on January 17, 2011 by loblt| Leave a [...]

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