When is it ethical to talk about religion with a patient?

  1. I was talking with a collegue the other day and she described a conversation with a pt where it sounds as if she were basically evangelizing. Now I had been told by my pastor (Catholic priest), who happens to be a medical ethics specialist and was at one time the chief ethicist for a large Catholic healthcare system. He told me that it's not ethical to try to convert pts and that you have to be very careful about this.

    Religion is an awkward subject anyways, much like politics. I ususally follow the pts lead, or look for clues in the room as to their religious persuasion or belief system. But, then again, I don't personally believe people go to Hell just for their beliefs. I have one nurse friend who told me that she will whisper the name of Jesus in dying pt's ears.

    Does anyone here pray with pts? I've done that a couple of times, but generally I treat religious beliefs as a private matter.
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  2. 96 Comments

  3. by   Katnip
    Very unethical to go around trying to convert people who are in a vulnerable position, as patients are.

    I would bring this up with the nurses in private, first. And if they disagree, which it sounds like they might, then bring it up with the NM.

    It's quite possible these poor patients are too afraid to tell the nurse to stop because she might not give them proper treatment or something.
  4. by   Tweety
    Evangelizing to patients about your personsal religion is wrong and not our place as health care providers.

    However, we must be attuned to our patient's spiritual needs. This can be done without shoving our religion down their throat.
  5. by   GardenDove
    I guess it's difficult for a person who believes that someone needs to accept Christ to not try to convert a sick person who they think is bound for Hell.
  6. by   tvccrn
    I would have a hard time with a nurse who did this. The religion I follow doesn't believe in pushing (for lack of a better term) what we believe on others.

    To me religion has it's place, but only if you know that the patient follows the same and is the one to initiate the conversation. If a patient asked me to pray with them I would respectfully be with them as they did so, silently asking my gods to watch over them while they healed.

    tvccrn
  7. by   caroladybelle
    Quote from GardenDove
    I guess it's difficult for a person who believes that someone needs to accept Christ to not try to convert a sick person who they think is bound for Hell.
    And it is also difficult, for those of us that value our religious beliefs/or possible lack therefore, not to try to dissuade you of your treasured (but false -to our minds) beliefs in a G-d that would condemn others to Hell. We would also treasure bringing you to our equally treasured and right (in our eyes) beliefs but understand and respect that it is not appropriate to do so at a moment of physical crisis.

    Has anyone ever tried to convert you to the righteousness of Jewish belief/Islam/Hinduism/Shinto/Ba'hai/Buddha while you were ailing and near death? And how would you feel about somone doing so - trying to "educate" you or your loved ones about how they need to convert now, for fear of "Hell" and how sick they are at this time?
  8. by   SuesquatchRN
    I'll preface this by saying up front that I'm an atheist.

    I would be furious is someone caring for me decided to prosyletize while I was a captive.

    I talk about religion with my residents all the time. They almost all believe in Jesus as savior, and I tell them not to be afraid, that they'll be in heaven soon, or in the cemetary with their stillborn baby, or whatever it is that strengthens and comforts them It would be cruel and improper of me to foist my lack of belief on them, particularly when they are all old and facing imminent death.

    My role is to care and comfort. My spirituality or lack thereof must be secondary to the needs of the patients with whom I have been entrusted.
    Last edit by SuesquatchRN on Jan 9, '07 : Reason: spelling
  9. by   GardenDove
    Now, I don't know the details of the conversation that my collegue was having with that pt. I wonder if it's okay to talk about one's faith when a pt is questioning or searching? Some people might think about God more when they are sick or be reevaluating their lives. Perhaps they have guilt and need reassurance as to God's forgiveness and they are reaching out to the nurse?
  10. by   TazziRN
    Discussing religion is one thing. Most often the pt brings it up and may ask what I believe. Sometimes, if a pt or relative seems very troubled, I will carefully share my beliefs to try to get them to talk to me, but I don't preach and I don't push......"I believe that miscarriage is God's way of stopping a pregnancy that wasn't developing normally. What do you think?" I have never had a pt or family get upset with me that way.

    Preaching to someone and trying to convert them....that's just plain wrong. My brother was an atheist. A family friend at the time was a very devout Catholic. The day my brother died, we were all at the hospital and he asked if he could call in a priest to baptize Chris. My mom said No. (She would have said No even if Chris were Christian, because we're not Catholic.) He sat there and said "But if we don't have him baptized, he won't go to Heaven."

    This is not something you say to a woman who'se son is dead and is just waiting for pronouncement!!!!!!! I understand that this was his belief, but he did not respect our or my brother's belief. That was 17 years ago, and I never forgave him for that. Especially after we found out he had already called in the priest who was at the bedside while we were in the waiting room. My mom caught him coming out of my brother's cubicle in the unit. We would not have been upset had it been an emergency and the friend had not had time to ask before acting. I myself, as well as doctors I've worked with, have baptized babies and fetuses in the ER because we didn't know if it had already been done and the parents weren't there yet. This "friend", however, went against our wishes.
  11. by   caroladybelle
    Quote from caroladybelle
    Has anyone ever tried to convert you to the righteousness of Jewish belief/Islam/Hinduism/Shinto/Ba'hai/Buddha while you were ailing and near death? And how would you feel about somone doing so - trying to "educate" you or your loved ones about how they need to convert now, for fear of "Hell" and how sick they are at this time?

    Dove, you did not answer the question.
  12. by   Silverdragon102
    like politics I do not discuss religion but more than happy to get in touch with someone of their denomination if they want to speak to someone
  13. by   Spidey's mom
    Quote from Tweety
    Evangelizing to patients about your personsal religion is wrong and not our place as health care providers.

    However, we must be attuned to our patient's spiritual needs. This can be done without shoving our religion down their throat.
    I'm a wacko born-again Christian and I never try to convert anyone, period. Patient or not. However, if asked I will share my belief system. If asked, I will pray with a patient. Usually with a patient this kind of conversation is usually just to sit and listen to the patient talk. Not affirming or denying anything. Just being there. I will call a priest or pastor if the patient or family asks.

    I agree that attempting to convert patients is not our place as health care providers.

    My experience is complicated by the fact that I live in a very small town and I know almost every patient personally - they also know I'm a Christian.

    Just a bit OT . . .but regarding small towns . . . when I was dating my dh I stopped into the gas station to fill 'er up and the attendant started talking to me about my dating dh (I was new here) . . . one of the things he said was "you know he is a Christian and goes to church don't you?". Then he said "but he drinks beer too". Can't get away with anything in a small town.

    steph
  14. by   SuesquatchRN
    Quote from GardenDove
    Now, I don't know the details of the conversation that my collegue was having with that pt. I wonder if it's okay to talk about one's faith when a pt is questioning or searching? Some people might think about God more when they are sick or be reevaluating their lives. Perhaps they have guilt and need reassurance as to God's forgiveness and they are reaching out to the nurse?
    If telling a patient about my beliefs entails that they will suffer for eternity because they don't believe as I do how does that proffer reassurance and alleviate guilt?

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