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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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.