Another story has emerged today about a GP who decided to talk about his personal religious faith with a patient, leading the patient’s mother to complain about his conduct. Listening to the GP himself talking on the radio this lunchtime, he confirmed that the patient was very disturbed and his choice to talk to him about his own Christian faith was a genuine attempt to help him. He truly believes in the transformational effect that faith can have on someone, if they are willing to allow it into their lives.
I also believe in this, although I am now an atheist. I experienced it myself from my early teens to my late twenties, when I was a devout Christian. I was going through a pretty intense emotional breakdown at the time, and without my faith, I truly believe I would not have got through it. However, just as important (if not more so) was the intense psychological therapy I went through, on the advice of my GP at the time. Without that, I know I would be dead now.
My problem with the way in which this GP has behaved is that he chose to talk about something which has nothing whatsoever to do with medical science, and is equivalent to telling the poor man to go down to the bottom of the garden and ask the fairies to help him. If he had suggested this, only the craziest people would be supporting him now.
What also bothers me about this is the fact that doctors have an immense amount of power over us, particularly in their consulting rooms. A vulnerable person such as this young man is in a one-to-one situation with someone who he has been conditioned to believe knows best what is good for him. Because of this, he may well feel pressured into professing a faith which he doesn’t possess, something which could cause his emotional state to become even more fragile.
There is a time and place for a religious person to talk about their faith, and I certainly don’t believe that you shouldn’t talk to others, of all faiths or none, about your religious beliefs or lack of them. However, when you start actively trying to convert people, then I believe that is wrong. If someone hears how your faith has transformed your life, then they may or may not decide to try it for themselves. If you put them in a position where they feel forced to take part in something which they’re not sure about, not only will they probably end up resenting you for it, they may also be deeply psychologically damaged by it.
I’m sure that this GP meant well, and truly believed he was offering help to a person who was visibly suffering. However, I believe that the decision of his PCT to take action against him is the right one.
If we allow this sort of abuse of power, however well-meant, where do we stop?