Secular madness?

Nurse suspension over prayer ‘could lead to thousands more’
On the face of it, a case of militant secularism as severe as Christian militancy or jihadism.

Petrie said the incident that led to her suspension occurred after she visited a woman in Winscombe in December. She said she asked the woman: “Would you like me to pray for you?” after putting dressings on her legs. The woman replied “No, thank you”, and Petrie insists she did not press the matter.

Different if Petrie was touting for business among the emotional vulnerable.

The PCT quotes as a reason for suspension:
“The Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of Conduct makes it clear that nurses ‘must not use their professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’.

The Daily Telegraph, picking up the story for national coverage seems to have prompted the hole-in-the wall publication of the ( I presume England-only) staff guidelines on religion, according to reporter Martin Beckford’s blog.

This document – which is pretty important when you consider the controversy surrounding faith in public life these days, and the fact that our health service is the world’s third-largest employer – was published for the first time onto a dark corner of the Department of Health’s website on a Friday afternoon without any public announcement or press release.

The guidebook specifically bans any proselytising, preaching or attempts to convert work colleagues or patients, and warns that non-believers may feel “harassed and intimidated” by someone who tries to enlighten them.

The whole aim of the guidelines seems to be to avoid the risk of an anti-discrimination suit. With the result in this case I hope, that they run slap-bang into one, through demented bureaucratic overzealousness. Diversity without expression is a denial of genuine diversity.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Perhaps it’s over-sensitive, but a member of the medical staff leaning over my hospital bed offering to pray for you could be taken as a less than glowing diagnosis.

  • This is a stupid issue. If you are religious enough that you think prayer can help someone, pray for them. They do not need to be told that you did. See Matthew 6:5-8.

  • ??

    shame this nurse wasnt a muslim, nothing more would have been said or done about it

  • This is not a case of “secular madness”. It is a case of tabloid madness and I am disappointed to see the Slugger site going for a tabloid headline.

    Mrs Petrie has been suspended pending an investigation of her actions. She has not been sacked. She has only been suspended.

    The crucial detail which the report above has left out is that this is not the first time that Mrs Petrie has been cautioned for proselytising. Last time she was handing out prayer cards to patients. She was told not to proselytise like that and so she has responded by making verbal requests instead.

    The fundamental principle which is at stake here is that nurses should attend to the health of their patients and should not discriminate between them on the basis of their religion or lack of it. It is not a nurse’s job to inquire into the religious beliefs of her patients and he/she should not do so because it may prove to be the first step in discriminatory treatment.

    It is not “secular madness” to require nurses to concentrate on their job and not to pry into their patients’ religious beliefs or lack of them. Who knows how a fervent believer reacts to being told ‘No thank you’ when she/he is making their offers of prayers, tracts, or whatever. It may make them feel negative or even ill-disposed towards the patients who say no.

    It would appear that Petrie is a proselytising crank who refuses to desist. Her employers should tell her that one more incident will indeed cost her job. If she wants to devote her life to proselytising, she should go ahead and do so, as a street preacher or a clergywoman, but not as nurse.

  • dewi

    World third largest employer?
    Chinese Red Army, Indian Railways, both State’s NHS surely bigger?

  • Do UK health facilities still enquire about religious belief? It would be interesting to know what the patient had put on the form – if a religious denomination had been listed the nurse may be able to claim that she thought he/she would be receptive.

  • Have re-read the article – I see it was a home visit so perhaps no such information is collected.

  • ??

    t would appear that Petrie is a proselytising crank who refuses to desist. Her employers should tell her that one more incident will indeed cost her job. If she wants to devote her life to proselytising, she should go ahead and do so, as a street preacher or a clergywoman, but not as nurse.
    Posted by Les Reid on Feb 03, 2009 @ 05:35 PM

    good to know bigotry isnt just reserved for the religious

  • Brian Walker

    Les. The DT is not a tabloid, although even the new DT will still defend “traditional values”. In this story, the devil is in the detail, so to speak. Yes she was spoken to in October. But is asking a patient if they ‘d like to be prayed for proselytising? It’s all too easy to jump to conclusions are call her a proselytising crank. Suspension is a very blunt instrument particularly when the comments made about her don’t seem to amount to an official complaint for harassment.

  • NCM

    Ok, you guys (the UK) put cameras on every street corner, mull over banning knives because people might hurt themselves, and suspend nurses for asking if an elderly patient would like a quick prayer. I’d suggest quite seriously that you are not a free people and have given over to the state the last vestiges of your dignity. Have fun with Big Brother. He’s looking out for you because you can’t do it yourselves.

    I’m sure what I’ve written is considered anti-social hate speech in the UK so I’ll need to hide my face from the cameras next time I’m on British soil. I’ll be sure to keep my prayers to myself though while I’m hiding my face lest I offend the little old atheists scared of men owning knives.

  • UpTyrone

    The patient had every right to complain and I would have done the same. It’s just soooooo spooky to be accosted in your own home by God botherers of any description. I give them short thrift at the doorway but of course this particularly lady was able to get into the house ‘under the radar’ by using the good offices of the NHS. No wonder her employer is a bit peeved.

  • McGrath

    Suspension is a very blunt instrument particularly when the comments made about her don’t seem to amount to an official complaint for harassment.

    Posted by Brian Walker on Feb 03, 2009 @ 06:16 PM

    Brian:

    But she hasn’t been suspended for harassment. The suspension relates to an investigation into a breach of contract, the terms of which she agreed to. If she didn’t like them, she didn’t have to enter into the contract, and she is free to end the contract at any time she pleases.

  • NCM

    UpTyrone, I have no beef with the old lady complaining, and of course patients shouldn’t be subjected to unwanted religious encounters. It’s the official state over-reaction to the complaint which suggests things are nuts — unless, say, this was the third complaint about this particular nurse over prayer or if the nature of her action was particularly bad, this is an overreaction.

  • New Yorker

    The code states “‘must not use their professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’.” It should be argued that prayer is related to health. Many believe prayer improves physical and spiritual health.

    The legal case, if lodged, should be interesting. Let the NHS prove prayer is not related to health.

  • pauljames

    Brian
    Regarding the actions of Somerset Care Trust the suspension followed the previous proselytising after which Mrs Petrie was sent a letter which said: “Your NMC [Nursing Midwifery Council] code states that ‘you must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity’ and ‘you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’.” The letter warned: “If there is any further similar incident it may be treated as potential misconduct and the formal disciplinary procedure could be instigated.”
    Mrs Petrie was asked to attend an ‘equality and diversity’ course following the incident. “I stopped handing out prayer cards after that but I found it more and more difficult [not to offer them]. “I was told not to force my faith on anyone but I could respond if patients themselves brought up the subject [of religion].”The Guardian reports that “She said she had seen her supplications have real effects on patients, including a Catholic woman whose urine infection cleared up days after she said a prayer.”
    I mean why bother with years of training when some juju can sort you out.

    Top tip to the religiots- Keep it to yourself.

  • Greenflag

    Nursie ,

    ‘And for your treatment dearie instead of the by pass surgery you were expecting we’re going to pray for you instead with three our fathers and three glory be’s and a couple of hail mary’s is that ok ?

    Elderly patient ,

    ‘I’m not a catholic’

    ‘All right for you we’ll bring in the singing nurse troupe from the 4th floor and they’ll sing that great old hymn ‘Abide with me ‘

    ‘But I’m not a protestant either ‘

    Nursie,

    ‘What are yiz then ‘

    ‘I’m jewish ?

    Nursie ‘

    ‘Well it’s either limbo or hell for you dearie so not point in the prayers then eh ;(?

    The god botherers indeed . She may have meant well but as the man above says there’s a lot of unused sandwich boards out there .

  • Greenflag

    new yorker ,

    ‘Let the NHS prove prayer is not related to health. ‘

    Feck off -Let the God botherers prove it is . As for all the ‘phony ‘ results of the intervention of prayer it has been shown that what makes an apparent difference for people is the fact that people ‘care ‘ for them at the end . Experiments carried out on patients who had people (unknown ) pray for them compared to people who had nobody pray for them the ‘results ‘ were they same .

    Visiting and looking after the sick has been proven to help . The ‘Praying ‘ is a nonsense jst like wearing scapulars or speaking in tongues or hopping about on a stage ‘possessed ‘ by the ‘lord ‘ under the direction of the local money grabbing priest/minister or shaman 🙁

  • NCM

    Maybe the larger issue should be, as a nurse, if you’re doing something that causes patients to actually complain to your supervisors, you probably aren’t doing what you should be doing and should do something else instead. To actually make a patient complain over an offered prayer might indicate the nurse’s approach is overbearing. Or that state is nuts and overreacting. I wasn’t there so I don’t know.

  • Pre Formy

    I wonder if people would find it strange if, at the end of their religious service/Mass/etc., the Minister/Priest etc. offered to dress their wounds, take their pulse or similar.

  • New Yorker

    Greenflag

    The burden would be on the NHS to prove prayer is not related to health. The NHS took action against the nurse and the nurse just has to say she believes prayer is related to health. A belief with a long tradition and many adherents.

    The Christian Medical Fellowship should make a test case of this. As the doctor says in the Telegraph, this is “aggressive atheism” and such tyranny by the ignorant should not go unchallenged.

  • @New Yorker – The only thing listed for intercessory prayer in the National Institute of Clinical Excellence is fertility (PDF link). Don’t think this was the patient in question’s problem. Accordingly, the onus should be on the nurse to bring her own evidence to the table, with the onus on her to prove a case.

  • McGrath

    The code states “‘must not use their professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’.” It should be argued that prayer is related to health. Many believe prayer improves physical and spiritual health.

    The legal case, if lodged, should be interesting. Let the NHS prove prayer is not related to health.

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 03, 2009 @ 06:52 PM

    Simple precedent should settle that then.

    Number of times bypass surgery saved a life = Lots

    Number of times prayer reversed a myocardial infarction = 0

    If I am wrong, then I will sacrifice a white rabbit in honour of the great toe god every Tuesday until my big toe nail grows back.

    Even if a majority of people felt that some non tangible treatment was beneficial, doesnt make it beneficial.

  • New Yorker

    McGrath

    “Even if a majority of people felt that some non tangible treatment was beneficial, doesnt make it beneficial.” Why not? You are equating “tangible treatment” only with beneficial. There could be, and probably are, a host non-tangible things that account for good health.

    The wording of the Code in this case is open to challenge. The nurse was operating with a belief most people hold. It would be the NHS defending a position against tradition and widely held belief.

  • dunreavynomore

    NEW YORKER
    “Let the NHS PROVE HEALTH IS NOT RELATED TO PRAYER.”
    Our old friend Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion describes an experiment carried out by a religious foundation in the USA. A Dr Benson, a cardiologist had said in a press release that “the evidence for the efficacy of intercessory prayer in medicinal settings is mounting”. Dr Benson then organised an experiment in which he and his team monitored 1, 802 patients who had received bypass surgery at 6 different hospitals.The patients were divided into 3 groups. Group 1 received prayers and didn’t know it. Group 2 (the control group) received no prayers. Group 3 received prayers and did know it.
    Prayers were delivered by the congregations of 3 churches distant from the hospitals.The results were reported in the American Heart Journal of April 2006 and were clear cut. There was no difference between those who were prayed for and those who were not. There was a difference between those who KNEW they had been prayed for and those who did not know. Those who KNEW they were prayed for suffered significantly more complications than the others.

  • McGrath

    There could be, and probably are, a host non-tangible things that account for good health.

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 03, 2009 @ 08:56 PM

    The keyword is non-tangible “treatment”.

    Of course there are lots of non tangible things that account for good health, like, not shooting yourself.

  • cynic

    This looks like an everyday story of folk down in Wurzle country

    The question is why did the old Biddie who had her leg dressed bother to complain? Was she offended ‘NO’ but she thought that some other patient might have been.

    And I am sure that in future all nurses attending her will exercise the utmost care while being exceedingly careful not to engage her in the slightest conversation. Totally professional I’m sure. Perhaps one day soon they will train a robot to do it and then she will be happy.

  • Driftwood

    Let Petrie take this to court to ‘prove’ the power of prayer. If she wins, she stands to win a million:
    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html
    If she loses, she should resign and sell snake oil on Rathlin Island.

  • The Impartial Observer

    This is proof about how people need to read an article in full before commenting and not just dive in with their prejudices.

    The patient in this case DID NOT complain as some earlier posters have commented. It was another nurse who the patient told the story to. Personally I have no difficulty with people who have a sincere and genuine religious belief. If Petrie had been a Muslim or a Hindu, would disciplinary action have been taken?

    I don’t think so.

  • Driftwood

    If Petrie had been a Muslim or a Hindu, would disciplinary action have been taken?

    I bloody hope so. Same as if she had wanted to do a voodoo ceremony, or reiki crystals or any other nonsense.
    This is akin to a dentist asking if he/she wants the tooth fairy to remove a tooth, instead of the BDA approved method.
    She can always move to Haiti and practice her witch doctor buffoonery there.

  • New Yorker

    Dunreavy No More

    I don’t accept the opinions of bug doctors and cardiologists on matters that do not fall within their competence. Prayer is not within their competence, therefore, they do not know what they are thinking about. The ‘experiment’ they conducted is great comedy.

    McGrath

    The point is that the distinction between tangible and non-tangible is bogus and irrelevant.

  • NCM

    The issue isn’t whether prayer magically cures illness and thus is somehow medically-indicated or is instead a bunch of voodoo bunk. Instead the issue is whether a government bureacracy ought to intervene and take disciplinary action against a nurse who sought to bring a human touch to her bedside manner by offering an age-old human confort to an elderly patient. Unless this nurse is an overbearing lunatic prosletylizing nut, then this whole story is insane and suggests that this is a case of PC B.S. run amok. And that’s the question, a factual question I don’t know the answer to.

  • dunreavynomore

    new yorker

    “prayer is not within their competence”, what a strange statement! Firstly, the experiment I quoted was not conducted by ‘bug doctors’ but by christian believing doctors under the Templeton foundation. The people conducting the experiment believed, wrongly,that it would come out in their favorand would prove prayer effacious.
    Regarding ‘competence’ in matters of prayer,surely it is logical to apply scientific tests to so called ‘miracles’? On the same miracles I would be interested to know if anyone ever went to Lourdes with only one leg and came back with two. That would be a miracle just as it would have been a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the whale. How does one become ‘competent’ in prayer? Surely if prayer has a value it applies equally to all who practice it which would apply to those who formulated and took part in the GREAT PRAYER EXPERIMENT. If you are suggesting that only theologians understand about prayer then I respectfully reply that there is a golden teapot flying around the moon and that it is God. How do I know, I just do!! It’s too small to be seen but it is there, Bertrand Russell said so! It is just as logical to believe Bertrand as anything else on the subject of God or prayer. After all, the fall back position of the theologian ia allways, ‘it’s a matter of faith’, in other words religion does not need proof. It is more logical to say that theologians are not ‘competent’ to talk about the nature of the universe or anything therein unless they have a grounding in science.

  • Salem

    The wording of the Code in this case is open to challenge. – New Yorker – I believe that she has been forced to accept that she acted inapproriately in order for clients to complain.

    It seems very clear to me that she must not act in the way she did. When she is tending to someone needs in a “professional” sense then she should not be using that as an excuse to promote her religious views. What if the nurse had been preaching islamic or jewish or pagan beliefs for example ?

  • McGrath

    McGrath

    The point is that the distinction between tangible and non-tangible is bogus and irrelevant.

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 04, 2009 @ 01:29 AM

    The distinction between the effectiveness of modern medical science and the effectiveness of someone offering to pray for you is bogus and irrelevant? That’s going to come as a shock to the medical profession. If you are suggesting that it is irrelevant to this particular discussion, then why did the woman offer to pray for the patient? She obviously thought there would be some effect to it.

    Also, who is competent to pray? Is there some kind of criteria to measure someones conviction in some particular hypothesis?

  • Doctor Who

    The nurse in question seems to be a bit of a kook. There is probably no need for such concern with her behaviour until of course she starts offering to sacrifice goats on her patients behalf.

  • New Yorker

    Dunreavy No More

    Qualified theologians should be competent in matters of faith, reason and judgments on issues of prayer. Medical doctors ‘experiments’ as filtered through a bug doctor should be disregarded. If an experiment were set up, supervised and reported by qualified theologians, it would have merit and should be considered.

    BTW, do you know the play “Dunreavy No More”?

    Salem

    There is no indication in the article that she is promoting her religious views only that she offered to say a prayer.

    McGrath

    The distinction is bogus and irrelevant because the issue is not the method, whether tangible or non-tangible, but the efficasy of the action taken. Many believe prayer can be beneficial to health. It is not a substitute for medical treatment but can be seen as a supplement, which I believe is what the nurse had in mind.

    Prayer is a universal human ability; there is no issue of competency beyond some who are mentally handicapped or in similar conditions.

  • dunreavynomore

    New Yorker
    “Qualified theologians should be competent on matters of faith, reason and judgement on issues of prayer.” Not really, all they can be competent on is examining what people believe but they have no more ability to pronounce any faith more ‘right’ than another or any prayer more viable.They may have deep knowledge of how various faiths came about but no proof that any have validity.The fact that they rely on such nonsense as ‘it’s a mystery’ or ‘it’s a matter of faith’ proves that they don’t have any answers.

    ‘Dunreavy no more ??’ written, I think, by Malachy Conlon who was influential in the Anti Partition League which was strong in South Armagh at one time after partition. He and his people came from Glasdrummond. Malachy Conlon Pk in Cullaville is named after him. Dunreavy wood was near Mullachban and was the eastern boundary of the Fews.

  • New Yorker

    Dunreavy No More

    You may not accept what theologians have to say, but very many people do. You may take your theology from a bug doctor but I would only take what he says about bugs seriously. Science is largely a matter of best-guess theory and mystery as is theology. So, it is rational to listen to scientists on matters of the physical world and theologians on matters of the spiritual world. No one has any absolutely true answers on subjects at hand, only believable mythologies, whether they be of the religious or scientific variety.

    Malachy Conlon was a member of my family and was the author of “Dunreavy No More” and other plays. He was actually born in Cregganduff and lived for a long time in nearby Lurgancullenboy which is adjacent to Glassdrummond. Malachy was a MP in the old Nationalist Party for many years and did much good work for the local community. As you know, his party was a permanent minority in the Stormont of those days so he could not accomplish much there.

  • dunreavynomore

    New yorker

    Why is it ‘rational to listen to theologians on matters of the spiritual world’?
    Scientists, including the man you refer to as ‘the bug doctor’ are quick to welcome new information even when it proves their existing theories wrong, Theologians, meanwhile, take hundreds of years to change their theories’ and only do so when the rest of the world is laughing at their old theories.
    On the Conlons, wasn’t there a brother of Malachys in Glasdrummond up to a few years ago?
    Is it ok to ask you if you are Conlon through your father or mother’s side?

  • McGrath

    “Prayer is not within their competence”

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 04, 2009 @ 01:29 AM

    “Prayer is a universal human ability”

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 04, 2009 @ 06:43 PM

    “Qualified theologians should be competent in matters of faith, reason and judgments on issues of prayer.”

    Posted by New Yorker on Feb 04, 2009 @ 06:43 PM

    Well, in the first two comments you appear to be contradicting yourself.

    And, in the last comment you are suggesting that some are better at praying than others. If some are better at praying that others, then surely those who are better at it can show some results?

  • New Yorker

    Dunreavy No More

    It is rational to listen to theologians on matters of the spiritual world because they have studied it and have degrees which confers their competence in the study. If theories change often, it means they were often wrong.

    Malachy’s brother, Gerry, had a council house in Glassdrummond. I think Gerry is dead over 20 years. My father’s mother was a Conlon. Are you related to the Conlons?

    McGrath

    It’s the difference between able to do something and being knowledgeable and competent on a subject. I drive a car but am not an automotive engineer. Accordingly I drive and automotive engineers drive but I am not competent to judge if a car is engineered to the highest standards. Everyone can pray but not everyone is competent on the nature of prayer.

  • abucs

    It’s difficult to comment on a situation that we weren’t there for.

    If the lady felt uncomfortable with anything the nurse did, it should be taken seriously.

    If the nurse (and it is an ‘if’) constantly annoys people then it is right for her to be suspended.

    I am not so comfortable with the law referring explicitly to religion though.

    If the patient was annoyed then that is fine – something should be done.

    Personally, if some nurse (Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Muslim etc ) asked to pray for me i’d more than welcome it. I would feel a personal touch of caring from that nurse.

    I’d worry instead about regulating against religion altogether and creating a lot of NHS employees going around like programmed robots just picking up their pay cheques at the end of the day. A bit of humanity would be welcomed.

    By me at least.

    That being said the patient was well within her own rights. But i see it as similar to as if someone wanted to keep talking about the football or play certain music on the radio. It is not always welcomed by the patient.

    I think it’s wrong though to single out a certain subject and make a ‘hard and certain’ law about it, especially when it could potentially remove from the NHS some humanity that would be welcomed by a great many people especially at difficult times of their lives.

    Annoyance and nuisence laws could well deal with this where it is not wanted, especially if it is a repeat offender.

    It’s a worry that the vocal minority have taken great care to regulate many of our laws regarding something they have convinced themselves doesn’t exist anyway.

    Many of our hospitals were started by religious people and although it doesn’t mean patients should have to be subjected to sermons when they are there, it shouldn’t also mean that religion is barred altogether in order to fit in with other peoples belief systems.

    This should all be handled under annoyance and nuisence laws.

    The laws now, as they stand, are laying the groundwork for a possible illiberal future IMHO.

  • dunreavynomore

    New Yorker
    ‘if theories change often it means that they were wrong.’. Of course it does, that’s the difference between scientists and theologians. Scientists don not pretend to have all the answers, they say, all the evidence to date points to…, and when new evidence comes along are willing to drop or adapt theories whereas theologians claim to know almost everything about creation, ‘god’, life after death and the only evidence they produce is to say ‘it’s a mystery, you must have faith, or most silly of all, ‘it’s written in an old book’.!!!’

    No, I am not related to the Conlons but I remember speaking to Gerry a few times years ago. He was a good conversationalist and witty.

  • New Yorker

    Dunreavy No More

    I knew Gerry Conlon since I was a child. He was warm, witty, full of divilment and his own man. There are not many lovable characters like Gerry left and we are the poorer for it.