Monday, January 30, 2012

Spirituality in Medicine

The first-year medical students choose from among seven humanities courses this semester:
  1. Cultural Diversity in Medicine
  2. End of Life Care
  3. History of Medicine: Great Pandemics and Our Responses to Them
  4. Medicine and Literature
  5. Perception, Art, & Clinical Judgment
  6. Spirituality in Medicine
  7. Physician: Heal Thyself
I chose Spirituality in Medicine, because the spiritual life is very important to me. Medicine is only a piece of my life, which as a whole is only legible in spiritual terms. I want to aid patients' bodies and the souls of patients and colleagues (not in an unasked way), and so I want to know how patients and colleagues think and feel about spirituality in medicine.

Since they course began a few weeks ago, I've made two discoveries:
  • There is published controversy about whether doctors should include spirituality in their practice.
One of our assignments (chapter 2 from Spirituality In Patient Care: Why How When & What by Harold G. Koenig, MD, 2002) cited multiple arguments against it. A professional does not do what he is not qualified or competent to safely accomplish, a physician should not hurt the autonomy of his patients, etc. Koenig overcomes many of these arguments and cites evidence for the beneficial psychological and somatic benefits of spirituality. This discovery (and Koenig's arguments) were not much of a surprise. The second discovery was.
  • It is very popular among non-Christians and weak Christians to think "spiritual" may be had without religion and without God.
Science and Charity. Pablo Picasso. (Crazy, right?!)
I approach this from a Thomistic, scholastic (rational) background. With natural reason alone, God can be proved necessary to sustain contingent beings moment to moment. Everything involves God. Moreover, how can a spiritual encounter not involve the principle of spirituality? God is most spirit, so is the agent of all things spiritual, just as heat is the agent of all things hot. A "spiritual encounter" in nature or with other people refers to a deep and impressive sensation which St. Ignatius calls a psychological consolation. But such a movement is not without God, who sustains our every breath.

I am grateful for my grasp of true spirituality (I am not afraid to say that I have the true opinion), but I will humbly learn from anyone that has something to teach me. I've already learned a great deal! Two physicians have addressed the class: a Muslim and a Christian. The Muslim spoke about spirituality as above. The Christian seemed to have a better understanding ("spirituality" was an intimate part of life animating her to serve and heal others), but did not articulate it. Both were adept at discussing patients' spiritual needs in their practices, and because this is what I want to learn, I will quietly listen and retain what is good. (And I will tell you about it.) Pray for me!

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