Fixing religious ignorance: 5-3-11
Scoping out past, present: 5-5-11

We aren't just bodies: 5-4-11

Last week I spoke to the annual symposium of the Center for Practical Bioethics, and wound up talking about the heebie-jeebies. Really. (Though you can't tell that from this photo of me there.)

WDT-CPB Well, heebie-jeebies is the term that was used in a question to me after my talk that was billed this way: "Pain is about Care: The Meaning of Pain Defines and Re-defines Care."

In my remarks, I suggested that health care professionals should always remember that people in pain are both physical and spiritual beings and that sometimes what seems to be just physical pain has spiritual or emotional roots and must be treated with that in mind.

A health care provider then asked me how it might be possible to get physicians, nurses and others in the health care field more in tune with chaplains and others whose concern is the spiritual world, given that religion and similar disciplines often give health care professionals "the heebie-jeebies."

Which is to say, it gives them the jitters. And perhaps with good reason, given that many health care workers don't know much, if anything, about the religious or spiritual beliefs of the people they're treating. Beyond that, the more materialistic scientists among the doctors and others may view religious belief with great skepticism.

In response, suggested that it would be helpful if the hospitals and other facilities in which patients are treated could arrange regular cross-disciplinary meetings between health care workers and chaplains plus visiting clergy. This is exactly what Shawnee Mission Medical Center in suburban Kansas City did some years ago to great effect.

Such intimate conversations can demystify the work of chaplains for doctors and can help chaplains have better insight into the work physicians do. Because often these groups are not in regular conversation, both make mistakes in relating to patients that could be avoided.

Another hospital with a reputation for considering the spiritual needs of patients is Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Conn.

The point is that when someone is ill, everyone who is working to fix that needs to understand what others on that task are doing, whether they're nurses, orderlies, physicians, visiting clergy or chaplains. It's one more reason for everyone in the country to be religiously literate.

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Religion scholar Stephen Prothero adds some useful additional information about burying Osama bin Laden at sea and what Islamic traditions are for burial. My guess is that even the sharks won't enjoy this lunch.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column -- about reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden -- now is online. To read it, click here.


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