When Faith Conflicts With Medical Advice

Christopher Meyers is a Professor of Philosophy and Executive Director of the Kegley Institute of Ethics at California State University, Bakersfield. He provides ethics commentary on California’s Valley Public Radio.  His latest podcast concerns the intersection of religion and medicine.

“Among the hardest cases in clinical ethics consulting are those in which patients’ or families’ religious beliefs motivate medical choices contrary to best professional advice. A common example is when a family requests that medically ineffective life-sustaining treatments not be withdrawn while they hope for divine intervention.”

“These cases usually can be ethically managed with education and counseling. This allows decision makers to come to grips with the medical reality, including that continued aggressive treatment will most likely only increase the patient’s suffering.”

“Some cases, however, are much harder: family choices can cause patients to suffer through otherwise manageable pain, to languish for years in a permanent vegetative state, or even to die prematurely – all because their religious convictions preclude the medically appropriate response. These choices cause real harm.”

Professor Meyers asks: “shouldn’t some faith-based reasons be subject to questioning . . . .  Surely we – churches, courts, ethicists – can do more to provide them with helpful standards.”  

At least some of those standards may be forthcoming at the Petrie-Flom Center’s 2015 annual conference: “Law, Religion, and American Health Care.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.