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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.