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Dangerous territory for vulnerable patients

by
26 July 2012

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Sir, - I have found the discussions regarding the General Medical Council case involving a doctor and a suicidal patient very disturbing ( News and Comment, 22 June; Letters, 29 June).

I am a parish priest and also someone who sufferers from severe bouts of depression. As I understand it, this case involved a patient who did not have a Christian faith.

I would not like to think anyone was left with the impression, from people such as the Bishop of Dover ( Comment, 22 June), that this approach to offering Christian support to someone in despair is appropriate in any circumstances.

I have recent experience of a severe episode of desperate suicidal depression. I had the misfortune to encounter a psychiatrist who, once she discovered that I was a priest, decided to use faith as an appropriate topic to discuss with me at a therapeutic appointment. I was told that if I believed Jesus loved me, then he could heal me; and that my parishioners might be suspicious of me because they did not know I was suffering.

I was left feeling that I did not love Jesus enough and that I was failing as a priest. In my worst moments, it has been only Jesus and the human hands who do his work on earth (among whom I include GPs, etc.) which have kept me alive. It has not been the strength of my belief in God, but rather God's strength of love for me that offers hope. In a few short words, I felt the psychiatrist had torn away my vocation and my relationship with God.

Of course, I encourage my parishioners to live their faith in their daily lives. However, God has given the medical profession their medical skills to use to his glory, and they must be extremely careful not to use such dangerous and judgemental proselytising, which could prove fatal to a vulnerable patient.

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