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


  1. I work as a nurse in a teaching hospital. I feel comfortable pulling any resident, or attending physician aside when I witness any behavior that is not in the best interest of the patient. Shame on that physician and shame on anyone who had knowledge of this act, and did nothing to help.

  2. I'm glad to hear you say that. I too wondered that same thing. How could no one else intervene on this poor woman's behalf, there had to have been other healthcare workers that knew of/witnessed this take place.

    I'm happy that there are people like you that aren't afraid to be a patient advocate, we could certainly use more of them.

  3. What a hypocrite. I bet she answered the ethics questions correctly on boards, just to pass