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Doctors reject right to pray for patients


Doctors have rejected calls for them to be given a right to pray for patients without facing disciplinary action.

At the British Medical Association conference in Liverpool doctors debated a motion calling for medics to be allowed to discuss spiritual issues with patients.

However, delegates refused to back the proposal. The GMC code suggests that discussing religion can be part of care provided to patients - as long as the individual’s wishes are respected.

Earlier this year the Department of Health issued guidance warning about proselytising.

It said that discussing religion with patients could be interpreted as an attempt to convert which could be construed as a form of harassment.

Last year community nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended by North Somerset NHS Trust after offering to pray for a patient, although she was later allowed to return to work.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: ‘The BMA conference has been very sensible in refusing give this unfettered permission to religious doctors to offer prayers to patients.

‘The restrictions are there for a very important reason - to protect patients from embarrassment, irritation and possible conflict with their doctor.’


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Readers' comments (3)

  • I find the terminology confusing. Of course nobody should be given the right to pray for somebody, but as with any intervention prayer should be able to be offered, as a patient has the right to decline. I know several doctors who have offered to pray for patients, and the offer has usually been gratefully received. Not all conditions respond to medication, and prayer, sensitively offered and sensitively administered, can at times be the most effective intervention. (And there are research studies to show that it can make a demonstrable difference- see the work of Speck, etc.). Genuine prayer is motivated by compassion, which does not does not coerce anybody to do anything against their wishes.

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  • while i tend to agree with prayer amongst other alternative therapies has an emotional value. however if clinically effective the recipient would not nessecarily have to know they were being prayed for

    so clinicians who wish to pray to their various gods and godesses can go ahead and pray without fear for being accused of prosleyltising or appearing to wish to use their religious beliefs to influence their relationship with their patients.

    in the meantime i would like to see more double blind studies in large hospitals with prayer from a number of religious persuasions and recipients whoe are both agnostic and religiously inclined....maybe the agnostics could pray also, lets get to the bottom of this before offering it as a therapy!

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  • keithy

    Hi Tim - I am all for your suggestion of double blind tests. I am a prayer therapist, prayer as a therapy is what I do, and given that trust is established, I currently see success of > 95% on emotional and mental health issues. I achieve this through a detailed understanding of the cause and effect behind emotions. I would love an opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of prayer.

    However I would point out that blind praying without interaction is almost always a waste of time, because normally the process of healing needs the active involvement of the person, it is rarely if ever entirely passive.

    For example, if a victim of abuse is depressed because they believe it is "all their fault", it is not possible to remotely change their mind for them via distant prayer.

    Prayer will however lead them on their own journey of personal discovery to see the truth of whose fault it really was, and a genuine realisation that it was not their fault, is what is needed to cure the depression.

    This is how prayer works as a therapy.

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