Sunday, July 19, 2015

Stephen Post “The IRB, Ethics and the Objective Study of Religion in Health”

The American Society operates as a secular society and in that society if it is in fact shunned upon to publish papers linking medicine to religion or faith. Post notes “why should religious facts be studied as part of health and health care research? Because religious facts are so elemental, so rich and so pervasive in the experience of illness.” He continues “Scientific freedom patient well-being and physician or nurse competency are compromised when religion is deemed unworthy of study. Therefore the ethical question is not whether to study religion in health care but how to study it with methodological sophistication.” I do believe that patient well-being is involved in healing and in supernatural beliefs from my own personal experience of believing despite discouragement from the doctors that I could walk again after being in a wheelchair in 2004, and in fact achieving just that. I do feel that it was a critical part of my recovery, in fact the doctors still call me the poster child or want to read the books I publish (although I have not had a doctor come to one of my retreats yet). In any case, it is pointless to deny that cases like mine are not rare and that people with a strong spiritual belief can overcome the limitations of medicine. In this article Post argues for that and provides a lot of arguments why legally and academically it is a good practice. In fact why would IRBs play “God” and decide what is acceptable and not acceptable in healing? Is it not the case that many patients heal themselves based on their belief despite medical prognoses? Religious studies, at least postmodern religious studies, approaches religion in a respectful yet secular way that does not promote or push any agenda rather acknowledges that religious or spiritual belief is an integral part of the human psyche. I do remember in 2012 (yes again) when I had a construction site accident I experienced an NDE. As I came back I was talking about death in a manner similar to Socrates, that in fact I am looking forward to crossing over again. I remember my doctor at the time gave me anti-psychotic medications believing that I was delusional or suicidal. What if she had had an education in religion and understood or at least appreciated that what I was describing was not crazy, rather it was a common well documented phenomenon, or at least as Post states, she “had some appreciation of the existential significance of religion.” In the evolution of religious studies there is a “distinction [that has been made] between studying religion and teaching people to be religious”. It is a real problem in a time when it is more and more common through the internet to hear or similar accounts of recovery or healing that can be attributed to spirituality or religion to have “IRBs refuse to approve scientific research on religion and spirituality on the assumption are unsuited for scientifically sound investigation”. I do hope that as societies evolve IRBs will relax their standards. 

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