Let’s just say . . . .
You’re taking care of a patient who is dying of lung cancer. She’s a young 45 – strong willed, confident in herself, her beliefs and her ideas. She knows who she is and what she’s about – and she really has no regrets in life. She has settled herself into her own fate and is spending her time enjoying every minute with her family and friends.
You’re her nurse – – or caregiver, or doctor or counselor, it doesn’t matter which. You’re having a heart to heart with her about her spiritual beliefs and if there is anything you can do for her to support her wishes. You offer her the chaplain services that are provided by your agency. The patient declines these services.
She discloses to you that she is an atheist – and has been for the past 25 years. Her direct quote to you is, “I don’t believe in a god – – I’m not religious and I really don’t want you bringing that in to my home.”
You agree because you’re her nurse – – you’re not the saviour of the world. You’re not the keeper of souls. It is not your place to save the soul of every person you meet. You’re not some messenger from some god. It is not your place to impose your values, judgments, beliefs or ideals onto anyone, particularly a patient who is dying and is comfortable in her own skin.
Then – the patient declines to the point that her mental status is variable, at best. She has very brief moments in the day when you might think she is having a lucid moment – – maybe. She’s still alert, but very confused. . . delusional, hallucinatory – – some of it is from the pain medication, some of it is due to the spread of the cancer into her brain.
Now. Someone from within your agency decides that it’s important for this patient to go to heaven. This particular someone is a self-professed ‘born-again’ christian who tells her tale of spiritual testimony to anyone who will listen. She cannot stand the thought that this woman, who is about to die, is going to do it without being embraced in the arms of this god.
She makes it her personal mission – – her own personal ministry, to visit this patient 2-3 times per week to pray with her. To quote daily devotionals. To get this confused, delusional, hallucinatory woman who is not of her own mind and hasn’t been for sometime now . . to get this woman to say the words “I accept jesus christ as my personal saviour”.
Now, because of the relationship that you developed with this patient when she was of her right mind – – you know how adamantly opposed she was about bringing this kind of….”crap” (her words)..into her home. That’s not her view of hospice and it’s not something that is of any importance to her. Because of your relationship with her, prior to her decline — you know, for a fact, of what her outrage would be in the face of this type of coercion.
But this person that you work with thinks it should be important to her – – so this person you work with makes it her goal to make god, praying and devotionals a daily part of this dying womans last days. A dying woman who can no longer speak for herself and is vulnerable to the actions and words of those around her. This dying woman who put her faith into a group of hospice workers whose promise is to abide by their patient’s wishes and to strongly advocate for that patient and her personal wishes.
You have real big ethical questions about this kind of practice. This kind of imposition. This kind of total and utter disregard for the patient’s beliefs and wishes.
To make it worse – – this person is your boss. Now what?
I asked her – Tina, my boss – – I asked her if she felt it was an utter imposition to disregard this patient’s wishes and to waltz in and shove religion and god down her throat?
Tina’s response to me was that she answers to a higher power than the company who employs her – and she felt it her personal responsibility to save the souls of those who have lost their way.
So I ask her — “Tina – if you were laying in a hospital bed, dying of some terrible disease. You have the stress of that discomfort – – the fear of the unknown. . the frustration of watching your family members around you in sorrow and pain….imagine that I walk in … I sit down and hold your hand…I look at you and stroke your forehead to try and comfort you – – and then I ask, ‘Tina – would you like me to pray with you?’ – – – would you welcome that, Tina?”
Tina says, “Yes – of course I would – you know that.”
I tell her, “Ok – so then I bend down and bring a book out of my bag — I open it up and start to quote the spiritual text. The book I’m reading from is the Koran. You, Tina – – because of your illness, you lack the strength to stop me from quoting the Koran and your forced to lay there and listen to me — how would you feel then? The Koran . . . Buddha’s teachings . . . Some Wiccan phrases, maybe…how would you feel, Tina?”
She said, “I would hate that, Lisa – – you know that I don’t believe in those things. You know that, in my mind, it’s blasphemy and I would be offended by it.”
“Exactly my point, Tina — you nailed it.”
Amazing I still have a job, hey?