My experience with ethics boards has persuaded me that their members talk a lot about religious prohibitions on what professional folk (doctors, etc) may do.

A few days ago a medical ethics instructor and I were two of the four people at brunch and I asked if her students ask about church-operated hospitals.

She started a reply that lasted about 15 minutes before she paused and I was able to tell her I'm an atheist and had asked because church-operated hospitals have recently been in church-state separation news. (Two of the original four people had lost interest and left the table.)

Whereupon she set out to bring me back to religion.

She tried hard but failed.

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People confuse ethics on and religion (such as the PBS series "Religion and Ethics") partly because in some societies religions has taken it upon itself to be the arbiter of ethics. It served a purpose, I suppose at some times in history, but ethics is complex and potentially adaptive, whereas religion is arbitrary and rigid

My religious friend who has a transplanted liver likes to tell the story of how his liver operation was just in time because his old liver quit that day. He has 2 of his doctors talking and the one says it was all a great coincidence. He then says that his main liver doctor speaks up and says it was god--god did it! I find it strange that the doctor is giving all the credit to a god.

Let's also give credit to god for leaving that needle inside his liver when they sewed him back up. Maybe we should credit a god for killing the one man to get a liver to save my friend with. If it is coincidence, then maybe a god arranged that coincidence. I even laugh a bit when my friend tells me they found him a liver of the same blood type. That must be more proof of his god, huh. LOL

When I chose simple cremation at my funeral home one of the workers there told me he much more prefered "death with dignity." He meant he wanted the service, the burial, etc. We come into this world usually with no hair, no teeth, bad eyesight, and we leave the same way. What dignity is there in that?

As regards priests in hospitals, when I was checked into Ahuja Medical Center before my gallbladder surgery, I was asked if I had any religious affiliations.  Of course, I told them I was an atheist.  I added, "You can send someone in if you like.  I can warn you right now that the conversations will be ... interesting."

No such person visited my room during my stay.  [grin!]

Ahuja is a newer facility of Cleveland's University Hospitals.  It has no religious affiliations that I'm aware of, and just as well.  Their treatment of me was pragmatic and goal-oriented, yet also very personal and considerate.  I could hardly have asked for better.

When I arranged my cremation at the funeral home they asked me my religious preference. I replied, "none, zilch,and I don't want any religious speaking after I am gone." What I did set up was an afternoon where my survivors could speak about me and view my pictures on a posterboard showing various times in my life.

The last time I was admitted into a catholic hospital and asked if I wanted to declare a religion I simply said, "No. I believe in reality." 

I think any kind of rational medical ethics has to be founded on that primary phrase of the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."  The loaded word there is obviously "harm," and exactly what constitutes harm is a discussion that has likely been going on ever since people first tried to normalize conditions brought on by disease or disorder or even everyday living.

Ultimately, I suspect "harm" is defined by the person subject to it.  It is intensely personal and can vary widely from person to person, never mind being highly situational.  In the midst of this, to have some dogmatic organization such as the catholic church or ANY church attempt to superimpose rigid standards which frequently have little to do with reality is frankly ludicrous.  If medical ethics are to have any meaning at all, they need to be less about external meddling or unrealistic doctrines and far more about the welfare of the patient and recognizing their needs and desires. 

That can at least be a starting point in a milieu which is complex enough to begin with, without adding artificial and invented sanctions on top of it.

When my husband's dad was in the Vets Hospital in Vancouver, his wishes were full code (which neither of us would have chosen in a million years, but that's what he wanted). My hubby had to go before an "ethics panel" and defend his dad's wishes. There was a preacher on the panel who didn't know his dad, but knew that he was ready to be with God, i.e. stop the life support. I think most people would consider hastening someone's exit as doing harm.


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