More and more I encounter the meme that doctors should begin receiving spiritual sensitivity training, training that allows them to be more sensitive to a patient's moral and religious values. While the details of what this exactly means are vague, I'd rather my doctor tell me what is medically proven, not what he thinks his knowledge of my religious values dictates. From a recent post at Science + Religion:
... religion informs health values for many patient populations and, as such, deserves consideration within the clinical encounter. If a patient adheres to a religious worldview, then the physician should learn the skills to elicit these values (noting the patient to be the foremost interpreter of these values for themselves) and help the patient to make decisions consonant with their own value system.
We already have an environment where doctor-patient communication is in need of improvement. Asking doctors to tailor information for patients based on their assumptions of the patient's moral and religious values is far too near the paternalistic communication pattern well entrenched. Belief is never monolithic. While the Catholic church may oppose removal of some patients from artificial nutrition and hydration, it would be ethically wrong for a doctor to assume that a patient, because they define themselves as Catholic, would be as well. It seems to me that calls for greater religious sensitivity are misdirected and based on assumptions about moral and religious values, assumptions that are far too simplistic to capture and react to the plurality of many individual faith understandings.
The role of the doctor is not to alter disclosure of medically viable procedures but to inform of all possibilities and options. The patient, in consultation with his or her family, must then consent. And that is the true meaning of informed consent: doctors inform and advise; patients choose the course.
Labels: doctor-patient communication, informed consent, patient autonomy, spiritual sensitivity, spiritual training