Prescribing Jesus

Is it appropriate for a doctor to offer Christianity as part of the treatment?

There's something wearying about the seemingly endless procession of "religious discrimination" cases coming before courts and employment tribunals. But the case of Dr Richard Scott, currently being heard by the General Medical Council, is a remarkable one. The accusation against the Margate GP is that he inappropriately discussed religion with a patient, a "vulnerable" and depressed 24-year-old. To be more specific, having first gained the patient's consent to broach the topic, he explained that Christianity might be of greater benefit than the religion (unspecified) to which the patient currently adheres. Becoming a Christian, it was implied, might help him get better.

Paul Ozin, for the GMC, said that the patient -- said to have been suicidal and to have had "lifestyle issues" at the time of the consultation -- was left "very upset" and felt Scott "had belittled his own faith". Scott contends that he did nothing wrong. He was merely exercising his "professional judgement", as allowed by GMC guidelines.

These professional guidelines seem quite straightforward. Here are the two relevant paragraphs:

19. You should not normally discuss your personal beliefs with patients unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient's care. You must not impose your beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views. Equally, you must not put pressure on patients to discuss or justify their beliefs (or the absence of them).

33. You must not express to your patients your personal beliefs, including political, religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress.

Here's where things begin to get interesting. While the guidelines seem to envisage that any discussion of religion in a clinical setting should be a rare occurrence, Scott would appear to have been taking the opportunity to evangelise to his patients on an almost daily basis. In an interview earlier this year, he stated that he had raised the subject of Christianity with "literally thousands" of his patients. Not only that, he often encouraged them to attend evangelical Alpha Courses at his local church -- and that, out of every ten he asked, eight took up the offer and two "had their lives changed as a result".

Scott can at least not be accused of springing Christianity on his patients without due warning. He belongs to a Christian-oriented practice, the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate. Until recently, the official NHS website carried a profile of the surgery, which stated:

The six partners are all practising Christians from a variety of Churches and their faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients and employees. The partners feel that the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit. If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care. Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the practice manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.

All this is, as I say, quite remarkable. This isn't the case of a doctor being persecuted by grim-faced secularists, because he once dared to mention his faith during a consultation. This is a doctor who, together with his colleagues, openly offers God as part of his normal treatment: a doctor who expects patients to opt out of being preached at whenever they go to the surgery with a sore throat or in need of a blood test.

The hearing is only taking place because Scott refused the GMC's decision to reprimand him over the incident. Backed by the Christian Legal Centre -- which is usually to be found at the heart of such cases -- he is insisting on his right to offer Jesus on the NHS.

I dug up an article written by Scott in 2002 for the magazine of the Medical Christian Fellowship, in which he was quite open about his motivation:

Evangelism is a job for all Christians, at all times and in all places, and Christian GPs are in a unique position to reach the lost in their local area. Sharing the gospel with patients is not an abuse of trust because God himself gives us the authority and salvation is their greatest need. We need to allow time for consultations in which the gospel might reasonably be introduced . . .

The article says nothing about the GMC guidelines but a great deal about the Bible. Scott writes that his "own particular focus is on depressed patients and anyone wearing a cross", the latter being "often lapsed Christians who carry much guilt and welcome the chance to discuss their faith". He mentions the "Christian notice board in the waiting room" and tells a story about a six-year-old boy who was encouraged by one of his posters to "profess his belief in Christ".

Scott is clear that Christian doctors have a special mission to save their patients from hell.

People are dying for the lack of the gospel message; eternal separation from God in hell is their future.

We are in a position second to none to reach the lost in our local area. We certainly have a greater access to non-Christians in a congenial environment than most full-time ministers . . . Our territory, our peculiar mission field, is our patients.

Far from Scott being the latest victim of a politically-correct secular tyranny, it would appear that, for many years now, the Bethesda Medical Centre has been able to function as part surgery, part evangelical outreach centre. This is an extraordinary state of affairs, even in a National Health Service that continues to fund homeopathy.

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Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears at Labour’s anti-Semitism inquiry press conference

A hostile atmosphere overshadowed announcement of the findings in Shami Chakrabarti’s report.

Speaking at a press conference on Labour’s anti-Semitism inquiry report, Jeremy Corbyn joked: “Last summer, I called for a kinder, gentler politics. Sadly I have to report that is still a work in progress.”

A wry aside, but one that grimly summed up how this event played out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at a time when an official report has to recommend that elected politicians “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”.



The recommendations from Shami Chakrabarti's report, following her inquiry into Labour anti-Semitism.

Corbyn called for a reflection on the recent “hateful language” used by politicians, including when Boris Johnson “compared Hitler’s murderous tyranny with the European project created from its ashes” and Michael Gove “compared pro-Remain economists to Nazi collaborators”. (He didn’t mention Ken Livingstone, and Shami Chakrabarti banned him from responding when he was called on it.)

But Corbyn’s warning against such incendiary historical comparisons was undermined by a clumsy line in his speech, which seemed to equate Israel to Islamic State:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

When asked if he was comparing Israel to the terrorist group, Corbyn said “of course not”. His office later clarified that he was not speaking specifically about IS, but a collection of governments and groups.

But the tone was set, and the inflammatory language didn’t end there. Tensions between the press and a handful of people claiming to be part of the pro-Corbyn campaign movement Momentum (though it’s unclear whether they were paid-up members) overshadowed the event.

A few of these activists clashed with journalists covering the event. I received a lengthy, angry lecture about media “hostility” by one activist, and Kate McCann from the Telegraph was accused of being a “troublemaker” and “racist”, as part of the “witch-hunt media”. During a Q&A with Corbyn, one supporter publicly accused the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth of colluding with the Telegraph. She walked out of the event, and her office confirms to me that she was reduced to tears by the incident.

In a statement on her website, she writes:

This morning, at the launch of the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism, I was verbally attacked by a Momentum activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter who used traditional antisemitic slurs to attack me for being part of a 'media conspiracy'. It is beyond belief that someone could come to the launch of a report on antisemitism in the Labour Party and espouse such vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people, which were ironically highlighted as such in Ms Chakrabarti's report, while the leader of my own party stood by and did absolutely nothing.

She has made an official complaint to Labour HQ, and is calling on Corbyn to resign immediately and make way for someone with the backbone to confront racism and anti-Semitism in our party and in the country”.

Corbyn denounced the language of the literature that activists were handing out (some of the leaflets referred to MPs as “traitors”):

“There should be no bad language used, there should be no abuse used, and I don’t like the use of the word ‘traitor’ either. I’ve sent out statements already saying whatever the situation in this political debate in the party at this present time, no abuse, no name-calling, none of that kind of behaviour. I’ve made that absolutely clear to people who agree with me, or don’t agree with me, and conduct debate in a civilised, civil way.”

These activists are not representatives of the Labour Party, and they may not even be official representatives of Momentum. But their aggressive behaviour towards Smeeth and people trying to do their jobs was bleakly poignant at an event specifically about stamping out hatred in politics.

I have contacted Momentum for this story, and am awaiting a response.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.