Los Angeles Times Examines Debate Over Role of Spirituality in Medicine
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined the debate in the medical community over the role of spirituality in medicine. According to the Times, the "core of the debate" involves "physicians' authority and the ethics of endorsing patient beliefs when they conflict with science." A 1994 study found that although 77% of U.S. residents said physicians should address patient spirituality, only 11% of physicians discussed spiritual issues with their patients. More than 100 medical schools currently include patient spirituality in their curricula, compared with 17 in 1995, the Times reports.
Rev. Sandra Yarlott, director of spiritual care at the University of California-Los Angeles, said that although "doctors need to ... provide emotional support" to patients, the "danger is that a physician will overstep because they're not aware of how their own beliefs influence their perceptions."
Harold Koenig, director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University, said that he recommends physicians "ask every patient if they consider themselves spiritual or religious." He added, "Doctors should encourage prayer and religious participation if that is a source of comfort. Religion has a power to heal, and we have an obligation to value that alongside medicine."
However, Richard Sloan, professor of psychology at Columbia University, said, "Spirituality is not guided by science, and doctors must be scientists before all else" (Duhigg, Los Angeles Times, 2/28).