Nurse Caroline Petrie has been suspended from her job as a part-time community nurse in a primary care trust in Somerset for offering to pray for an elderly patient, according to the Telegraph. This has been picked up by religious commenters, including Cath (whose blog first alerted me to the news item) and Cranmer.
Naturally, they (and many of their commenters) are appalled at this apparent overreaction by the trust. They are inclined to blame anti-Christian sentiment, or excessive political-correctness.
But they should be careful not to overstate the oppression that the actual incident implies. We are all prone to falling into a persecution mentality. For some further, highly relevant context, consider the following details. (I’m getting these from the Telegraph article, with corroboration from the Daily Mail.)
This was not an isolated incident. Mrs. Petrie regularly offers unsolicited prayers (formerly including handing out prayer cards). She has been reprimanded for this before, and has been told “you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health.” That is a fair and relevant guideline. (It seems she stopped handing out the cards after that.)
She remembers, “I was told not to force my faith on anyone but I could respond if patients themselves brought up the subject [of religion].” So she is not to proactively offer prayer, but may offer prayer if asked by the patient. Again, a fair guideline that balances her professional responsibilities with her religious freedom.
Mrs. Petrie says “I only offered to pray for her because I was concerned about her welfare and wanted her to get better.”
Well, prayer has been tested and has failed the scientific tests that we require of all medical interventions. She has every right to her religious beliefs, but she has an obligation to respect the boundary between the standard of evidence required by her profession and that she needs for her faith. If I were her patient, I’d be nettled at an offer of prayer for this reason. I want my health care professionals to be focusing on proven and effective techniques, not disproven supernatural techniques.
(Deena points out to me that Mrs. Petrie could easily just pray for patients anyway, and not mention it to them. Surely that satisfies both her beliefs and her professional guidelines.)
She says “[husband] Stuart and I have decided to put God first in our lives.” That’s their choice. But extends it into a choice to disregard reasonable guidelines of professional conduct. It is hardly persecution to be suspended for failing to follow those guidelines, after fair warning.
So she was given reasonable guidelines about the appropriate way to include her personal, non-medical beliefs in her professional, medical life. She was warned by her employer. And she decided to disregard the guidelines and the warnings. The trust’s reaction is appropriate; Mrs. Petrie is not being discriminated against.
It looks like the Christians in this case are upset, not because their beliefs are being marginalized, but because they are not being given preferential treatment. (This is particularly apparent in some of Cranmer’s statements.)
I have to remind them that this country still has an established church that holds seats in parliament (among other appalling privileges). How would you feel to live in a country where, say, Hindus had such a legislative advantage, if they began complaining because they were not being given special dispensation to promote their religion as they went about their publicly-funded roles?