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Religion which centers its concern on linking God and us through prayer, word and deed can either be friend or foe to the doctor.

What would make religion an enemy to the practice of medicine?

  • Any rigid interpretation of religious laws that places a religious law above people risks a confrontation with not only the scientific world but the ethical concerns of patient care. The obvious example that comes to mind is the refusal of blood transfusion by
    Jehova’s witnessess which can endanger the life of their dependants and their own. There are other examples which I am sure each one of you has come across before.
  • A literal interpretation of the creation story recorded in Genesis puts the believer at odds with human evolution, fossil records and geographic history. As one Jesuit astronomer said: The story of Genesis is not about “how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven”.
    The moment we try to use the Bible or any religious text as a blue print in lieu of Scientific inquiry to explain the scientific nature of things we stray from the purpose of the religious text. The aim of all religious human wisdom-writing is to make us more honest, more loving and humble
    in the service of our neighbour and the worship of God. The Prophet Malachi is accurate when he writes: “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”
  • My personal opinion as Priest-Doctor is that if one is practicing as a doctor; respect for colleagues and patient care must come first. For how can we serve God whom we cannot see if we cannot serve our brother and sister whom we can see? I am “put out” by colleagues who
    don’t pitch for work without finding a replacement citing that it is a religious holiday. It places an added burden on their colleagues. On a busy intake some doctors may vanish to pray while others have to cover for them.

    I believe that the nature of our work can
    become prayer, and a high form of prayer at that. How is this possible? Doctors are the new priests of the Secular Age.

    Firstly we will all remember our sojourn in hospital as a patient often for as long as we live. As doctors we have a golden opportunity of making an
    impact on a person’s life in a way that no other person or event can make. This is because we touch and care about the very essence of a person’s being – their emotional and physical state of staying alive and finding meaning in life after illness. To recognise, treat and touch patients as the
    image of God will communicate far more than a 1000 homilies. This is the essence which Christ taught his followers by his own nature and teaching. Here religion is friend to medical science.

    Secondly if we reflect on suffering, illness, the brevity of life and of how
    precarious our health really is we will be guided away from a thirst for amassing wealth, the lure of power and the smug satisfaction of being the “high priests of medical knowledge”. Yet unfortunately in the medical profession amongst academic circles and in private practice the dangers of
    professorial status amongst students and colleagues has lead senior colleagues into believing they are infallible. I have encountered some brilliant physicians but despicable human beings. Whatever religion we profess it must make us humble. This is the beauty of covering one’s head: that our
    intelligence is limited and we ought not to be proud. Muslim and Jew cover their heads while Christians remember that Jesus did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself.

    Never let your colleagues or senior staff demean or humiliate you
    because you cannot regurgitate Harrison’s Text Book of Internal Medicine on ward rounds. Likewise never shout at or treat your patients badly because they have left their diabetic book at home, have missed an appointment or forgotten to take their tablets. You have no idea what their life
    circumstances are and how hard it is to do the things we take for granted. I discovered this when I lived in Soweto myself for 5 years.

    One of my greatest joys working at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is encountering the enormous fountain of concern of many of the
    dedicated doctors in the Internal Medicine department. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and Free-Thinker rank amongst the senior staff and all of them bring to bear their faith in some small degree on the way they treat patients. Truly we are a witness to the Middle East and every other troubled
    area of the world divided by religious hatred for in combating disease and alleviating human suffering doctors of all faiths are united in purpose and action. The human body is the focus of a doctor’s life and as a Christian, I believe too was the focus of Jesus’ mission in the Incarnation (latin:
    to become flesh).


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