January 14, 2008

We asked if you care whether or not your doctor believes in god. Thanks for your many great responses, a sample of which can be heard on our show on January 14, 2008. Fifteen percent of you said you preferred an atheist, while an equal percent said you preferred it if your doctor believes in god. The majority of you said they didn't pay attention to their doctor's beliefs, provided those beliefs didn't affect their treatment.

From med school through residency, the only 'religion' taught in med school is medical science. If anything, religion is seen by many inside the profession as an encumbrance to practicing medicine. That is not to say doctors lack ethics. In my view, physicians and other health professionals are among the most ethically grounded people I know.

It's just that doctors tend to have difficulty coming to grips with situations in which medical practice confronts religious beliefs, from the religious physician who tries to dissuade the pregnant woman from seeking an abortion (okay provided he or she refers the woman to a physician willing to provide one), to the anemic patient who refuses a blood transfusion on religious grounds.

To me, it's about personal autonomy and the choice to conduct one's life according to one's beliefs. Health professionals need to respect the choices of patients and not try to impose our personal views on them. Sometimes, that means letting patients decide which lifesaving treatments they'll accept and which they'll refuse. It's tough to stand by and watch a patient suffer because they refuse treatment on religious grounds. It's their choice. And a lot of my colleagues struggle with that.

On to new business. Later this month, Dr. Charles Smith testifies at the Goudge Inquiry into pediatric forensic pathology in the province of Ontario. This is a provincial inquiry with wide-ranging implications for the entire medical system. On January 28, White Coat, Black Art is taking a hard look at the issue of the continuing competence of physicians. I'll have more to say about that in the next blog entry or two.

But for now, here's a question we'd like to ask you: whose responsibility should it be that doctors maintain their competence to practice medicine? As well, if you have strong opinions and experiences on this issue, we'd like to hear them.

Post your entries on this website. Email us at whitecoat AT cbc.ca. We're also looking for voicemail to include in the show, so call us at 1-866-648-6714.

That's all from my side of the gurney.

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