Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is it OK for your Doctor to Proselytize?

When is it ok to use business to spread your religion? Is it OK for your butcher to recommend chapters of the Bible? For your mechanic to leave Jehovah's Witness literature around the waiting room and press one into your hands as you leave? Is it OK for your doctor to tell you that accepting Christ as your savior would help you heal?

This is not an academic question to a friend of mine. We were on the topic of religion and my upcoming book, and got to the Proselyzation Meme, which brought forth a story. She faced a series of reconstructive surgeries after an illness, and her HMO offered just one surgeon in that specialty. The good news was that her surgeon was one of the best, and did an excellent job. But ... the surgeon's waiting room was filled with religious books and magazines, she sold childrens' Bible stories in her lobby, and the same literature graced the examining rooms and the doctor's own office. Every time my friend was going through particularly difficult times, the doctor would remind her that Jesus could help, if she'd only let him into her heart.

I don't know about you, but in my book it is unethical for any doctor to mix religion and medicine, especially one in an HMO where the patient is "captive" and can't choose.

A butcher or mechanic? Sure. I can easily take my business elsewhere (or more likely, I'd continue to patronize them and offer them my views!), and as private citizens, they have a right to operate their businesses any way they like. But not doctors. Doctors are supposed to offer tolerance, impartiality, and acceptance of all lifestyles to their patients. When we visit, we have to know that we can talk about anything to our doctor without fear of judgement, condescension or disapproval.

What if, for example, a cheating spouse feared he/she had caught a sexually transmitted disease, and was afraid to ask an overtly proselytizing doctor to be tested, for fear of being judged? The consequences could be fatal to his/her marriage partner.

If Christians, or a member of any other faith, feel that saving my soul is so important that they must share and spread their beliefs, fine, that's their right. But, they shouldn't become doctors if they can't put their proselytizing aside during business hours. Being a doctor implies treating all of your patients impartially, sticking to medicine, and keeping your morals and beliefs to yourself. Opinions and advice should be strictly medical and psychological.


  1. I've got that picture on my front door (the bible-thumpers w/the line through them). Works wonders for keeping them off my porch.

  2. I've never been specifically proselytized at by my doctor, but since moving to the southern US I've twice gone to doctors where they had Christian magazines and books everywhere. Plus, the first thing my primary care doctor asked was what religion I was. As an atheist who's not "out" yet, I fudged a little and said what I was raised as and what my wife's religion was.

    I don't understand why doctors would think it's alright to promote religion or to discuss it unless the patient brings it up. A doctor should be concerned about the patient's health, not their salvation.


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