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Thinking Nurse

This blog will reflect my interests in learning disabilities, nursing, nursing theory, philosophy and politics and my general interests in the arts and literature. (Nursing is an art as well as a science!) Philosophy and nursing have been intrinsically linked since the days of Socrates, his mother was a midwife, and taught him everything he knew!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Religion and Patient Care

My recent post on the differences between theistic and humanistic nursing has generated considerable discussion, the vast majority at an excellent level of reflection and argument.

Some though think that I should not be bringing the issue of religion into it at all :quote:
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The RELIGIOUS groups that you speak about that are terrorizing the world have nothing to do with the care of patients.
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Unfortunately of course, they do; through the promotion of beliefs such as the division of the human being into two parts - body and soul, religions have had a huge impact on human health, particularly as religion emphasises the primacy of the soul over the body, allowing religious people to 'mortify' their bodies for the benefit of their souls, and to participate in violence against other people's bodies - where this is believed to be in line with 'Gods will' (I.e. the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition, or the infamous crusade against a town where many 'heretics' lived, where the instruction was 'slay them all, the lord will know his own', as well as the oppression of the female body through institutions such as purdah, hijab and 'female circumcision' - in reality genital mutilation). On top of all this comes the denial and suppression of human sexuality, leading to mental anguish, and worse.

A full assessment of the impact of religion on human health could well be the subject for another 'Thinking Nurse' post, as I dont have time to cover it all today - I do recognise that there can be positive effects too, particularly those associated with 'belonging' and sociability.

Religous groups do participate in health care provision - particularly where there is no, or minimal state provision, and they do so in a way that is affected by their religious dogmas, certainly they are strongly influenced by teachings about 'charity' and by the opportunity for proselytising, while I would regard health as a 'human right' rather than something to be given to 'the deserving' and held back from the 'undeserving', and the delivery of healthcare as a form of 'human solidarity', due to everyone regardless of religious orientation, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality or perceived morality.

Patient care is affected when religious groups attack family planning clinics and the nurses and doctors who staff them, or when AIDS awareness programmes are interfered with, or when people are taught that illness is a product of 'sin', that disability is the product of bad karma from a previous life, or a punishment for the sins of that person's parents, or that mental illness is due to possession by demons, or when creationism is taught in schools as 'fact' disrupting the scientific education of the new generation of human carers.

None of these attitudes encourage people to seek help for their problems, instead they encourage shame, guilt, ignorance and stigmatisation. This is a type of 'spirituality' that our patients and clients do not need.

I therefore make no apology for raising this issue. It is one that nurses at least need to think about, even if they do not agree with everything I have said.

People with strong religious beliefs have a right to have their beliefs and customs respected - I feel that atheist and humanist nurses can respect the beliefs of others, where people with strong, but different religious beliefs can find it difficult.

Personally I have been involved with taking my clients to churches of many denominations to participate in worship - I feel this accords perfectly with my own atheism, as I am enabling my client to express their own spirituality, and participate in the wider community, though often I have cringed at what is being spouted from the pulpit!

8 Comments:

At 12:33 AM, Blogger postliberal said...

Hellow there - just so you have some kind of hook...I'm Laurence, a small town Methodist, graduate in horticulture, with a family that has various people in helath and social care. I found your post stimulating, and sometimes quite sympathetic. But thought it would be a good idea to challenge one or two things.

"People with strong religious beliefs have a right to have their beliefs and customs respected - I feel that atheist and humanist nurses can respect the beliefs of others, where people with strong, but different religious beliefs can find it difficult."

I think your perspective here is incredibly partial, but then I cannot account for our different experiences and must acknowledge the context here, and what points you're trying to communicate. Firstly I think it's a slight misconception to see atheism or humanism as some kind of neutral perspective - they're just as laden with values as any member of a religion, they're a whole worldviews toboot. Plus, there really aren't that many general patterns in expression - you're just as likely to get a scrupulous and caring muslim doctor as you are an arrogant and disrespectful atheist. The trick is to try and encourage the most generous and open approach in everyone, whatever their creed.

With any luck, that'll come across right.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger Thinking Nurse said...

"it's a slight misconception to see atheism or humanism as some kind of neutral perspective - they're just as laden with values as any member of a religion, they're a whole worldviews toboot. Plus, there really aren't that many general patterns in expression - you're just as likely to get a scrupulous and caring muslim doctor as you are an arrogant and disrespectful atheist."

You are of course right on all counts - humanism and atheism are not neutral perspectives, and they are indeed worldviews, and you will find moslem and christian health professionals who are far more humanistic, tolerant and accepting than professed atheists and humanists.

My point I suppose is that if these people were acting in a way that was congruent with the teachings of their particular belief systems, atheists and humanists would be more able to respect the beliefs of others than those who have strong theistic backgrounds.

A christian for example faced with a patient who identified themselves as 'pagan' or 'wiccan' would have to ignore the bible teaching 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live'...

 
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