Living On A Prayer

There’s a big hoo-hah at the moment, as usual media-fuelled, over the suspension of an NHS nurse because she offered to pray for someone’s recovery.

The person at the centre of this religious storm is community nurse Caroline Petrie, 45, who asked a patient in her 70s if she would like a good word put in on her behalf to the big medic in the sky.

The patient complained to her health trust and nurse Petrie is now awaiting the outcome  of a disciplinary meeting.

Petrie seems to think, by her involvement of the Christian Legal Centre, that  it’s an infringement of her right to religious freedom to be suspended for doing something so charitable as praying to an elderly sick woman.

WRONG. This has got nothing to do with religious freedom. It’s about good, and by good I mean professional, not moral, medical practice. Simple as that. Nothing more to be said. Period.

This nurse has clearly overstepped her mark (plus Matthew, Luke and John) by, in effect, offering the patient an extra, non-prescribed form of treatment for her ailments. Forget the ‘Christian’ tag for a moment and consider what sort of reaction there would have been if Petrie had offered snake oil or some other untested remedy instead.

‘I believe eating buttered earwigs helped cure my ills and thought it might have been of some benefit to the old dear,’ she might have told the Sun reporter afterwards, before he slowly backed away and found another fuzzier no-brainer story to exploit instead.

Petrie really believes God’s will can have an effect on a patient’s health EVEN THOUGH there’s not one bit of medical proof attesting to this, apart from the placebo effect. If that was the aim then surely a sugar pill would have left a better taste in the patient’s mouth?

If God is ‘cure’ to Petrie than how does she understand medicine and disease? Is cancer Satan’s work, and what about AIDS? There are some Christians who argue it’s a plague from God, who in his early days seems to have had a dislike of gay people for some odd reason. Maybe they didn’t fancy him.

If you abandon, even slightly, the scientific basis of pathology and treatment then you find yourself with huge paradoxes inherent in religion  such as how can a loving God stand by and allow people to be consumed by plagues? In fact Petrie go check your Bible (next to Gray’s Anatomy on your bookshelf) and discover just how many nasty diseases the deity you’re praying to has sent down upon the peoples of the Earth.

So that’s why she’s suspended: Because it’s not accepted medical practice, well not since the Middle Ages, to pray for a cure. It’s not because she’s a Christian, though I think her being Christian is important to the news stories with their western-orientated culture bias. I don’t think ‘Struck Off for Offering to Slaughter Chicken’ (about a voodoo-practicing district nurse) would go down quite as well.

And finally, if we’re talking about religious freedom then how about the right to be free of religion? The complainant in this case didn’t like proselytising, however mild, and neither do I. If I go to a garage I expect a car to be fixed and if I go to a restaurant I hope to be offered delicious food. With neither do I want an added mumbo-jumbo service, gratis or otherwise. You want to hear people talking about a Christian God? Go To Church. That’s what it’s there for.

And if a vicar offers to give you keyhole surgery after praying for your salvation, politely refuse and contact the nearest authorities.

Click Heaven Help Us to read the BBC news story.


3 Responses to “Living On A Prayer”

  1. shamelesslyatheist Says:

    I remember this case. There’s no question of the ethics here – it is clearly unethical. Even if the patient initiated this it would have been unethical.

    In Blind Faith, Richard Sloan talks about a Colorado surgeon who says (while you are in the gurney being wheeled into the OR) “Mind if we say a prayer?” That is just scary. I prefer my surgeons to trust in their skill.

  2. zombiebacon Says:

    That’s a good point. Another example would be the pilot of a plane getting everyone to kneel down together and pray before take-off. Prayer is an appeal for assistance in matters beyond our control. The whole point of a professional is that they are IN control. Therefore the passengers can pray if they wish, but never the pilot – who is paid to DO THE JOB using his own expertise, not God’s or any other vaguely-defined metaphysical presence.

  3. Quite apart from the fact that her actions are equivalent to offering to cast a spell, the fact is this nurse had already been formally requested to stop proselytising during her home visits.
    She said she “couldn’t bring herself to do that”, freely admitting she’s ignored a direct order from her boss. That’s a sacking offence in anyone’s book, isn’t it?
    But because rules don’t matter if the excuse is your religion, she’s back at work, and the Daily Mail rejoices.
    There’s a major discrimination issue for the patient here. If I refuse an offer of prayer, telling her I’m an atheist, does that affect her future attitude to me? If my condition deteriorates afterwards, is that a reason for sadness and redoubled medical efforts, or a glorious affirmation of her god?

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