When (if ever) may doctors discuss religion with their patients?

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Abstract

There is ongoing debate within the bioethics literature regarding to what extent (if any) it is ethically justifiable for doctors to engage in religious discussion with their patients, in cases where patients cite religious considerations as influencing their medical decision-making. In this paper, we concede that certain forms of religious discussion between doctors and patients are morally permissible (though not necessarily morally obligatory), insofar as patients’ religious beliefs may comprise an important part of their overall wellbeing and can influence their medical decisions. However, we argue that it is not morally permissible for doctors to engage in substantive religious discussion with their patients, beyond simply inquiring about the patient's values (which may include their religious values) or referring patients to a chaplain or religious figure for further discussion. In support of this claim, we put forward two key arguments which have remained relatively unaddressed in the current debate. First, we argue that it is not practical for doctors to engage in substantive religious discussion with patients, and hence it cannot be morally obligatory for them to do so. Second, we argue that, while doctors might have a professional duty to ensure that their patient's religious interests (if any) are addressed, this does not entail that doctors themselves are the ones who should directly address these interests. Along the way, we anticipate and respond to some possible objections to these two key arguments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-80
Number of pages9
JournalBioethics
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • chaplain
  • doctor–patient relationship
  • goals of medicine
  • professional roles
  • religion
  • social remit

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