Thursday, September 13, 2012

U.S. Embassy Protests in the Middle East

As everyone is likely, well aware, Protests in the Middle East outside of U.S. Embassy's over a distasteful cartoon video have gotten out of hand.  If you have read my previous posts, then you have probably have a sense for my feelings on the Middle East.  Like America, I have nothing against the majority of the people, culture, and religions.  There are a few exceptions, however.

Perhaps it is my privilege and bias for having been raised in a country where free speech is not only allowed, but often encouraged.  Had someone created a cartoon poking fun at Jesus, people in the U.S. would find it distasteful and offensive, but no one would lose their lives over it.  A cartoon of this genre, should not invoke deaths and violent protests, this is the fault of religious extremism, which is not unique to Islam.  Christians have had their fair share (Norway shooter, Oklahoma City bombings etc.).

Being an individual, speaking out against the majority in the Middle East, is likely to be a life threatening event.  Their culture and governments do not support individualism as it is supported in the U.S. which is why this escapade has become so dangerous, and why some people have taken such offense to the cartoon.

I am the first person to defend the majority of people in the Middle East from ridicule.  I have many Arab friends and I feel no differently about them than my other friends, but the recent deadly protests have made it difficult to defend some of the people in the Middle East.  It's easy to lump everyone in a country, culture, or race together.  I try very hard not to do this, every country, culture, and race has extremists including the citizens of the U.S.  I know that the individuals responsible for protesting and creating violence are an infinitesimally small minority of the population, but Islam all ready has a bad name for extremism, making it even harder to defend.

Religious extremism has fueled so many of the world's wars, it's saddening to watch it continue to happen in my generation.  I hear and read of people bad-mouthing Atheists every day.  I do not take this personally, I assume it is due to their ignorance and nothing more.  I would, however, take it personally should I be physically attacked and my life threatened over being an Atheist.

This has all gotten well out of hand, the Middle East has suffered turmoil for far too long.  They need calm and stability, but for that occur, the religious extremists have to be considered separately from the majority of citizens.  U.S. news agencies do a very poor job of showing America the majority of Arabs, and focus more on the intolerant and violent individuals.  I urge everyone to keep this in mind.  Arabs are not the enemy, Islam is not the enemy, Christianity is not the enemy.  Extremism is, despite it's depiction as being widespread and prevalent, the majority of the citizens of the Middle East are nothing but peaceful.

Can you imagine a world at peace?  Without religion, we could come close.

Thanks for reading,

-The Atheist Physician

Friday, July 20, 2012

Discrimination Against Atheists

The first amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state.  The fact that this is made so explicit, is probably the reason for the rare instances of widespread federal government discrimination against Atheists, though on an individual and local government basis, the experience is quite different.

I am an Atheist.  I have experienced discrimination.  I have combatted that discrimination.

So, if the federal government isn't discriminating against me on a large scale, who is?  All Atheists, at one time or another, have experienced the social discrimination.  Someone discovers that you are an Atheist, and gives you the disgusted stare, or confused look.  They don't seem to understand how we can hold such a rational view of the world.  Oh, the irony.  Though awkward at times, these are usually relatively benign interactions.  Someone may disapprove of my view, they may not like me because of it, but none of that really harms me.

So what else is there?

Well, there is the nativity scenes that adorn the lawns of local government buildings.  My feelings are that since the U.S. prides itself on being a diverse country, our local governments ought to either decorate for and celebrate every religious holiday from all countries around the world, or none at all.  This, by itself, is a form of discrimination, but also relatively benign.  However, these are now individuals that have power over you, decision making power about you, your life, and your experience within a community, which makes ups the stakes a little in terms of how dangerous it can be.

So what else?

Would you believe me if I told you that there were 6 states that have laws preventing an Atheist from holding public office?  What happened to separation of church and state?  Just take a moment to ponder this before you continue reading.

This is dangerous.

I would imagine this stems from the misconception that Atheist have no morals.  Based upon the behaviors of religious persons that see around me, I am absolutely certain that I have better morals than most of them.  I don't need a God to tell me right from wrong.  I'm pretty capable of doing that all on my own, and I've been doing since about the age of 5.

How does this happen?  How is a state allowed to prevent me from running for public office due to my lack of religion?  I wish I had an answer, and I wish people didn't act on their fear.  I'm an open Atheist because I hope that when people meet me, and realize that I am Atheist, it may change their perception on Atheists.  Maybe they will see that we aren't a scary, underground society, looking to corrupt their  sanctimonious lifestyles.

I hope that someday, this discrimination will end.  Until then, I will continue to try to change people's ill-informed opinions about Atheism, one person at a time.  We will get there, it will just take time.

Have a great weekend,

-The Atheist Physician

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rape Victim Arrested and Denied Contraception on Religious Grounds

This story is one that is hauntingly similar to what occurred to another rape victim that I wrote about a few weeks earlier.

A young woman was raped, and reported to a rape crisis center for evaluation and help.  She was given  an emergency contraception (presumably "Plan B pill," from the description given.  With this type of emergency contraception, one pill is taken as soon as possible, and the second is taken 12 hours later.) and was told to report the rape to police.  Once she did so, she was arrested for an outstanding warrant for 2 non-violent crimes (Failure to appear and failure to provide restitution).  Once at the county jail, her second contraceptive pill was confiscated, and not provided to her in the time frame it was instructed to be taken by her physician and the manufacturer.  The reason?  It was against the guard's religious beliefs.

There are two issues with this situation.  First, if women who are raped and immediately arrested after reporting their rape to police, for outstanding warrants, women with warrants are going to stop reporting their rapes.  This is dangerous.  I understand the purpose of warrants and the necessity of them, but I would argue that there must also be some discretion used.  Which did not occur in this case. If you lived in this community, who would you rather have on the street, a woman who failed to appear in court, and failed to pay money that she owed, or a rapist?

The second part of this that I take issue with, is of course, the witholding of a prescribed and legally obtained medication from an imprisoned person.  This is simply unacceptable on multiple levels.  This guard was not a medical doctor, and even if she were, the patient should always have the final say in their medical care.  No one, physician, jail guard, police officer, judge, clergy, or anyone else, should be forcing any other person to receive, or fail to receive healthcare that they want.

This is yet again, another example of how one person's religion has intruded upon another person's right to autonomy and self-determination.  As I have stated several times, I am not anti-religion, indeed many of my closest friends are devoutly religious, but I am against one person's religion being the basis for decisions made about another person's life.  This is inappropriate, unconstitutional, and simply should not be tolerated.

What are your thoughts?  Leave me comment below on what you think about this or other situations like this that you know of.

Thanks and take care!

-The Atheist Physician

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Atheist Solidarity Day!

Today, June 21st, is Atheist Solidarity day.  It is the day when we take the time to remember the hardships individuals have had to endure for becoming openly Atheist.  It is also a time to celebrate how far we have come in the world.  Religion, as a source of concrete conclusions and unquestionable authority, is becoming less and less influential throughout the world.  Though I'm sad to admit that this does not appear to be the case in the United States, my hope is that we too will evolve our thinking as the rest of the world has begun to.  The U.S. remains one of the most religious nations, a fact that can make being an  open Atheist rather difficult.  So, today goes to you, those that live as open Atheists, and to those of you struggling to come out as Atheist.  We are always here to help you if you need it.

In addition to this rather short post, I would like to apologize for not having written as much in the last 2  weeks.  I have had an extremely busy two weeks preparing for licensing exams, but I have some good topics I want to write about, so expect them soon!

Thanks for reading, and take care!

-The Atheist Physician

Sunday, June 3, 2012

When Religion Goes Too Far, When Religion Harms

A few days ago, and absolutely despicable event took place.  A physician, did not act as a physician, on religious grounds.

A 24 year old girl was raped.  Unlike the majority of rapes, which are horribly underreported (According to the group Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) 54% of rapes go unreported), this brave young woman did exactly what she should have done.  She went to a place that should always provide help regardless of your situation.  No, she didn't go to her local church, she went to the nearest emergency room.  What she got there, though, was a little less than healing treatment, she might as well have gone to a local church.  First, she was told there was nothing they could do, because the hospital did not currently have a specialized nurse (called a SANE nurse or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) that dealt with situations of rape, and are trained in properly obtaining evidence (like DNA) and documenting the exam for future use in prosecuting a case against the offender.

This is where the first intervention on behalf of the physician should have taken place.  The ER physician,  if not properly trained in completing exams and obtaining specimens for evidence, should have made an effort in finding the nearest ER that did have a SANE nurse on hand.  There are numerous resources to help with this, for which every ER physician should be intimately aware.  For example, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) is a well known organization that provides training for SANE nurses, provides 24/7 emergency counselors for victims of rape and other abuse, and can provide transportation to the nearest facility that can provide a SANE nurse's service.  Instead of helping this young woman, the ER physician essentially threw up her hands and said, well,
there's nothing we can do.

There was plenty that could have been done.

Next, the young woman, thinking logically, asked whether emergency contraceptive was available.  This is important, as the sooner it is used, the more effective it is.  Once again, a situation in which the ER physician had the opportunity to help, and in fact, should have been the one to bring up the issue of emergency contraceptive, did nothing.  Actually, she did more than nothing.  She told this young woman, "I will not give you emergency contraceptives because it goes against my beliefs." Against your beliefs?  Who is this self righteous ER physician kidding?  Her beliefs are of absolutely no consequence in this situation.  What is of consequence, is this young woman's health, safety, and future.  All of which are vitally impacted during those first few minutes and hours after her rape.
Interestingly enough, though the YWCA is a Christian organization, they have supported a number of initiatives to increase access to emergency contraceptives.  So where did the misguided belief's of this ER physician come from, if some religious organizations support access to emergency contraceptives?

This saddens and angers me for several reasons.  First and foremost, this woman was treated in such an undignified way, after such a traumatic event occurred to her.  Instead of concerning herself with her own beliefs, perhaps this ER physician should have more correctly concerned herself with the care of this young woman.  I'm certain if this physician were raped, she would likely feel differently about emergency contraceptive use.  Second, this physician, through her actions, has called into question the public's ability to trust physicians.  This is most unfortunate.  It leaves the public wondering, if their physician is willing to compromise care on emergency contraceptives, what other areas are their physician's cutting corners, that they don't even know about, and what are their physician's goals and objectives?  Do they have my care and my best interests in mind?  This cannot be tolerated.  There are very few professions that carry such a responsibility as medicine.  I never want my patients to questions whether or not I'm providing them with proper care, based upon pure motives.  After knowing a patient for less than 10 minutes, I have them telling me about events in their life that they don't even share with their own spouses.  I have their absolute trust, and my behavior should never make them call my trust into question.  When one physician betrays the trust of their patient, it hurts all physicians and their ability to form a good "doctor-patient-relationship."

In my opinion, that ER physician has no business being a physician.  She needs to consider another line of work.  Perhaps working as a counselor at an anti-abortion clinic, if she feels that strongly about only parts of her religious beliefs.  After all, doesn't the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran preach to care for the sick, they do not differentiate between the "deserving and undeserving sick."
Louis Pasteur, one of the most famous physicians to have ever lived, once said: "One does not ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says: You suffer, that is enough for me, you belong to me, and I shall care for your."  I try to live by this when I am treating my patients, and I have found that it has never once done me wrong.  I would urge that ER physician to listen to Dr. Pasteur, his wisdom stretches far beyond the time in which he lived.

I can only hope that young woman found a true physician.  Someone who would care for her without treating her like she was dirty or immoral.

Take care,
-The Atheist Physician

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Your Lack of Belief Leaves You All Alone

The prominent philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once stated: "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.  If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened.  But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

So what do you do when you find that you are all alone amongst your family and your peers with your lack of belief?

There are a lot of potentially good answers.  For me, when I feel like no one else around me seems to see the world the way that I see it, I go back to the basics.  I start by examining how I reached the conclusion that there is not likely to be a god or any other deity.  I consider the natural truths that I find around me each day, I consider the logic that I employ to get me through each day, and I remember the people that have influenced me most on the subject.  All of this reminds me that I did not arrive at my conclusions on a whim.  Rather, my belief structure was created by the journey I have taken thus far in my life.  No single event in my life has defined me or my belief.  If for nothing else, this provides some solace, that I know my conclusion were not made in haste, and that a great deal of consideration and thought have been invested in them.  This helps me to remain steadfast. It is all too easy to fall into mainstream and "go-with-the-flow," instead of critically examining my beliefs.

Though the above suggestions may help strengthen your resolve to maintain your belief structure, it doesn't solve the issue of feeling alone.   Since you are reading this on the internet, it's safe to assume you have access to the internet, and as you all ready know, the internet is a nearly unlimited source of information and provides a boundless medium to connect to other people.  Other people, that share your same beliefs, so, use it!  One of my favorite places to visit is Atheist Nexus.  There are plenty of individuals that are happy to offer support and suggestions on how to deal with the sometimes daily hardships of being a minority group.

Finding other Atheists to meet in person may be difficult.  Like you, they may be struggling with issues of discrimination based upon their beliefs, and being open about them can be taxing for anyone.  One way of meeting others like you, may be to find a local Humanist group.  I've found that open Atheists tend to comprise a significant proportion of individuals that are active in their local Humanist groups.  A list of local chapters of the Center for Inquiry can be found here. This would be a great place to start.

If all else fails, message me.  I'm typically very good at responding quickly, and I know I had people to support me when I was questioning whether or not it was worth holding onto my belief structure, or if it would be better to give in to mainstream.  I can only hope I would be able to help others in a similar way.  Once again, the internet provides an impressive venue for such an event.

Just remember that you are certainly not alone.  It is a struggle, and though religious individuals may be irritating at times, be pleasant to them.  You never know when they may have a change in their beliefs, and may need you to welcome them with open arms, and support them along their journey.

Have a great week.

Take care,
-The Atheist Physician

Monday, April 30, 2012

Decisions, Decisions.....

I recently completed my first audition rotation for a residency program in the area of medicine I hope to practice.  Every program has its pros and cons, but of course these are not equal.  The best strategy I've developed so far is to assign a point value system to help me decide where I want to go.

I start by making a list of characteristics that I want from a program, this could be anything from the time I would start each day, the pay, the benefits, the time off, the type of patients I would see, the number of patients I would see, to the area in which I would have to live.  I then assign an importance value for each of these characteristics as they pertain to each program.  I then add all of the values for each program and I now have a numerical or quantitative way to rating each program based on my own preferences.  It might look something like this:  I assigne a value 1 through 5 to each category for each program.  1 being I'm not really a fan of the category in that program. and 5 being that I am very happy with that particular category for that particular program.

                                             Program 1                                  Program 2                        

Type of patients                           3                                                  2                                      

Number of patients                      4                                                  3                                      

Where I would live                      5                                                  4                                      

My supervisors                            2                                                  3                                      

Pay                                              3                                                  4                                      

Benefits                                       5                                                  2                                      

Time off                                      5                                                  3                                      

                                                   27                                                 21                                    

So, while I was trying to qualitatively measure and compare each program, I found it really difficult to tell which one I like more, because they each had different aspects I liked.  By putting it all into numbers based on my qualitative observations of each program, I have now found that there is one clear winner in this situation.  I enjoyed more aspects of program 1 than any other.

This sort of decisions making can be used with almost anything.  I hope that it might help someone else out there that is having a difficult time making tough decisions.  This has always helped me.  Of course, you could always try flipping a coin and right at the moment when you send the coin flipping into the air, you will know which choice you are hoping for.

Have a great week everyone,

-The Atheist Physician.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Tense Moment: When a Patient Wants You to Pray With Them.

One day on rounds, (the time when everyone on a particular rotation, med students, residents, and the attendings or the boss, walk around and see every patient on that particular service) I had an attending (my boss) ask me what my religion was.  This was all sparked by a patient we had just seen that talked up God so much, that I'm not really sure why she was in the hospital.  She made it seem like he was doing everything to help her, and we, mere mortals were just giving her a place to sleep other than her own bed. As you could have guessed, I'm on open Atheist, and so I answered my attending by telling him so.

You should have seen his face.

A mixture of surprise, disappointment, and anger.  He started to turn red and began a rant about how could I possibly think I was going to be a good physician if I don't have God in my life.  I listened attentively but said nothing, until he asked:

"What would you do if that patient we just saw had asked you to pray with her? Huh? Are you going to disappoint her?"

He got more than he bargained for with this question.  I replied:

"Of course not, I would have no problem praying with her.  Afterall, it's not against my religion to pray, and it doesn't harm me at all, but if it has a possibility of helping one of my patients feel better or more comfortable, I would have no problem doing it."

It was my turn for a question. My attending was obviously devoutly Catholic, as he made this fact known practically every day.  So, I asked him:

"What would you do if a patient asked you to pray with them and they were Buddhist?  What if they were Jewish?  What if they were Muslim and they asked you to get down on a prayer mat after washing your hands and feet and praying with them because it would make them feel better.  Would you?"

He did not appreciate this questioning at all.  First off, attendings are the ones that are used to asking all the questions.  Residents and medical students rarely question attendings, it's all part of the culture of medical education.  My attending seemed angry and flustered, but eventually answered that

"Of course I wouldn't, it would be against my religion!"

I smiled, and was content with this interaction.  It was good for me, because it made me more confident that I could assert myself and my beliefs, or lack there of, but more importantly, it taught everyone that had watched this interaction something as well.  It taught them that Atheist does not mean "religion hating" or "intolerant".  I in fact was far more tolerant of other religions than my attending.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not actually against religion.  Do they get on my nerves sometimes? yes. Does it cause a great deal of strife across and within cultures? Yes.  But I also know that some people need religion as their crutch.  If they have nothing else, it is what gets them through their day, their illness, their life.  Who am I to take that away?  I support religion so long as it doesn't harm or infringe upon others.  That is where I draw the line, and I defend that line vehemently.

Take care, and I hope everyone has a wonderful week.

-The Atheist Physician.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Death and Dying

As an open Atheist, you can expect to hear this question frequently: "How can you not believe that there is something better waiting for you in the afterlife?"  The easy answer is that I simply do not need to believe it.  I'm happy with my life as it is, and for me, this is all I get, this life and no other.  I consider myself lucky to be, but a blip on the radar of time.  The amount of time I occupy this earth is nothing more than a minuscule fraction of all of time.  The reason I am on this earth is simply because, evolutionarily, I was selected for, and my purpose is nothing more than to live my life, enjoy it, try to help others as much as possible, leaving the earth better than when I came into it, and dying so that someone else may take my place.  Like it or not, there are limited resources on this earth and every person and every organism that has ever lived could never occupy it at the same time.  We all die so that someone or some thing else may take our places.  It's truly that simple.

In my profession, I am faced with death on a rather frequent basis.  Many people would describe my business as a battle with death, in an attempt to win.  If I win, my patient survives, if I lose, my patient dies.  I'm not happy with that analogy though, for a few reasons.  First, I can never win the battle with death.  The best I can do is to delay it.  Second, I do not view death as the "enemy." Just before his passing, the first patient to take advantage of the physician assisted suicide law in Oregon (AKA the Death with Dignity Law) told his physician "Doctor, death is not the enemy, the enemy is humanity."  Indeed I cannot count the number of times in which I have witnessed death to be merciful.  After all, I am an Atheist and this life is all I have to live for, why would I want to spend it suffering?  A very wise man once told me, that as a physician, my job is to help my patients die as young as possible, as late in life as possible.  I strive to reach this mark each and every day.

The next question that I inevitably receive is: "So, there's no afterlife according to you, so what exactly is there?"  My reply is just as simple as my answer to their first question, and happens to be a quote from Epicurus, I'm certain that "your non-existence after death will be no worse than your non-existence prior to your birth."  This seems to bring my view about the afterlife into a better prospective for the believers in a heaven, nirvana, or otherwise enlightened state postmortem.

Because I deal with death and dying on a near daily basis, it's an area that is rather interesting to me, you should expect more writings on it in the future.  I'm only getting started.

-The Atheist Physician