Somehow this story slipped by me last week.
Manoj Jain — a doctor from Memphis — wrote a piece for The Washington Post where he discussed his discomfort with praying with a patient.
… Although I am comfortable asking patients about their faith when I question them about their profession and their family or social support structure, I feel awkward, even squeamish, about praying with my patients. That may be because I was never taught how to pray with my patients in medical school, nor did I see my mentors praying with patients. Also, I am of the Jain faith, an Eastern religion based on the principle of nonviolence and the practice of meditation, and most of my patients are of the Christian or Jewish faith. In addition, at times I have seen religious beliefs compromise a patient’s health: One young patient of mine died in my intensive care unit because she refused blood transfusions based on her religious beliefs.
It gets a little more complicated when you’re dealing with a doctor of a particular faith:
I asked my [Christian] neurosurgeon friend how he prays with patients who are Jewish, Muslim or Hindu. Does he end with the phrase about “our Lord, Jesus Christ”? He paused and then told me that it depends on the patient. I suspect that there is a selection bias and that he is more likely to offer prayers to Christian patients than others. He admits he feels uncomfortable offering a prayer in another faith or using the words “Allah,” “Om” or “Shalom” because for him the prayer would not feel authentic.
In the end, this is what prompts my discomfort with praying with patients. If a doctor is using prayer because he feels it will help to heal a patient and not just to improve the doctor-patient relationship, then I believe it is unfair, even discriminatory, for a doctor to offer a Christian prayer with a Christian patient and not offer another prayer to patients of other faiths.
However, Jain is not saying doctors should dismiss the role of faith in healing. He correctly agrees that encouraging a patient’s spirituality sometimes plays a part in helping them get better, but there’s a difference between spirituality and religion:
I think I could pray (using a generic prayer) or do a meditation exercise at a critical moment with my patient. At times, if this is uncomfortable or if there is not enough time, I could simply encourage the spiritual part of patients’ lives.
This is what I did with my patient suffering from end-stage congestive heart failure. I touched his Bible and said, “Many patients find this very helpful. I am glad you are using it.”
“Couldn’t make it without it, Doc,” he replied with a tone of hope and optimism.
So put yourself in a doctor’s shoes for a moment. (And to those of you who are doctors: feel free to chime in.)
According to the piece, 40-60 percent of patients want their doctors to pray with them.
Your job is to help them get better.
Do you indulge them and pray along?
Incidentally, Jain was also a co-investigator on the largest study to date on the effect of intercessory prayer, finding “that being prayed for did not improve outcomes, and it seemed to have a negative effect when patients knew they were the subject of prayers from afar.”
(via The Dallas Morning News)