What does it mean when a medical practitioner wants to offer a dose of prayer?

There have been angry-with-the-doctor opinion pieces versus angry-with-the-medical-authorities reports about the recent conflab between the General Medical Council (GMC) and General Practitioner Dr. Richard Scott, who talked about Jesus to a patient. However, it is worth asking, but what does it actually entail to have a physician-patient conversation about faith?

Source: Photostogo / Models used for illustrative purposes only

It is clearly inappropriate for a medical professional to proselytise, especially when people are feeling vulnerable.  However, it doesn’t sound like that is what happened. The  Sunday Times quotes the doctor as saying: “I only discussed mutual faith after obtaining the patient’s permission. In our conversation I said that, personally, I had found having faith in Jesus helped me and could help the patient. At no time did the patient indicate that they were offended, or that they wanted to stop the discussion. If that had been the case, I would have immediately ended the conversation.” (Prescribing Jesus Gets Doctor Censured – paywall.) The patient is still with the same doctor – it is his mother who has been offended and submitted a complaint.

Valley Morning Star video (below) filmed at a Texan “family practice residency programme” helps flesh out what it might be like to be “prescribed” a dose of prayer by the family doctor. It articulates the nature of a medical practice which offers “spiritual prescriptions” as well as medical prescriptions as a support to its patients, as Dr. Claudia Aguero-Vazquez puts it.  She continues:

[Patients] find comfort coming here because they know we won’t just address their medical problems, but that we will also actually help to feed their soul…More and more people are looking for God, and they’re looking for something more spiritual, and here we are able to do that, and it is something that people are seeking.

Mary Baker Eddy – the author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures – dedicated her textbook on healing to just such “honest seekers for Truth” (p. xii). She also wrote that “Millions of unprejudiced minds — simple seekers for Truth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert — are waiting and watching for rest and drink.” (p. 570). Her encouragement to the book’s readers is to respond kindly and courageously to such seekers, to “Give them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, and never fear the consequences.”

The Christian Scientist endeavours to proffer that “cup of cold water” through offering prayer that demonstrates how God’s love can heal without the assistance of additional material intervention and that takes place outside a clinical context. However, it is clear that the same yearning to reach the deeper needs of others can animate those whose profession includes employing a more mechanistic approach to healthcare. So shouldn’t there be a space in medical care for offering healing ideas from a heart that sees if there is a seeker and seeks to respond on the level of his/her deeper needs – provided there is no blatant or tacit pressure to engage in such conversations?

The tendency to detach the addressing of physical needs from questions of spiritual concern is leaving a lot of people on both sides of the physician-patient equation dissatisfied. And while spirituality in healthcare might not be everybody’s cup of tea, thought appears to be pushing at the limitations of materialism, demanding that healthcare make room for a more holistic healing.

The video below comes from an article which deals with similar issues in a Texan context, called Spirituality and Health.

“Every step of progress is a step more spiritual.” (Mary Baker Eddy, The People’s Idea of God)


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Categories: Health

Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. 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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