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Faith and Ethics in Health and Social Care, by Ann Gallagher and Christopher Herbert, editors

16 October 2020

Robin Gill considers perspectives on health care from various faiths

THIS collection, edited by Professor Ann Gallagher and Bishop Christopher Herbert, joins other books on health care and faith produced by the highly commendable Jessica Kingsley Publishers. If ever there was an area in which faith groups might cooperate, it is surely on health care. JKP is the publisher to recognise this most clearly.

Bishop Herbert brings his practical experience of speaking on health-care issues in the House of Lords, and Professor Gallagher brings her academic expertise as a Professor of Ethics and Care to this collection. In the introduction, they provide a summary of some of the key ethical principles in medical ethics, and, in their conclusion, they pick out points of contact between the various contributors.

Practitioners in ten different faith traditions — Bahai, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Humanism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, and Sikhism — set out their key beliefs and practices and then offer a medical case-study to illustrate them. Only the Humanist (Gallagher herself) gives a fictional case-study: the rest all give real-life, albeit anonymous, case-studies. Given that most of the contributors have significant clinical or chaplaincy backgrounds (as distinct from training in academic theology or ethics), these case-studies are, by a long way, the most engaging part of this attractive collection.

The two contributors on Confucianism, for example, discuss the case of a vulnerable woman whose family did not want her to know about her terminal condition. They argue that traditional Confucianism values about the family were in tension with Western assumptions about personal autonomy.

The contributor on Sikhism discusses the case of an elderly woman who refused an MRI scan because it would involve her removing her traditional turban. The contributors on Hinduism discuss the musical family rituals accompanying death which conflicted with standard practices of quietness in an intensive-care unit. Others, such as the contributors on Judaism, detect little or no tension between their religious practices or beliefs and modern health care.

The overall message is about greater understanding and respect. Many of the examples given in the collection are, unsurprisingly, about end-of-life care. In that, frequently medicalised, context, it is only too easy to give priority to standard health-care procedures. As anyone with experience of hospital chaplaincy will know, however, the final hours of dying can be deeply spiritual for patients and their families alike. It is a huge privilege to be alongside people at this liminal moment in their lives. In one way or another, most of the contributors to this collection reflect this. Faith and the differing rituals of faith, at this moment at least, are often crucial. This eminently sensitive collection is surely right to emphasise this.

And congratulations to JKP for publishing this and their other books.


The Revd Professor Robin Gill is Editor of Theology.


Faith and Ethics in Health and Social Care: Improving practice through understanding diverse perspectives
Ann Gallagher and Christopher Herbert, editors
JKP £19.99
Church House Bookshop £18

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