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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended July 16, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Jul00

Summarized by Rosemary Pollock

Prayer and Health Care? Not at U of Utah
Salt Lake Tribune 15Jul00 D6
By La Monica Everett-Haynes: Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- In spite of a new trend, by over half of the nation's medical schools to teach the need for prayer along with a prescription, the University of Utah Medical School has decided to abstain. In the heart of Salt Lake City and not far from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the school has not adopted a formal course that incorporates spirituality into health care.

Sam Shomaker, senior associate dean at the University said, "as a public institution we have to be a bit circumspect with the relationship between church and state." "It's important for physicians to be sensitive to the religious belief, but we don't tell our students to [pray with patients]," he said.

Currently the University of Utah's Nursing school provides a course entitled, Spirituality in Nursing and Health. Thom Mansen, associate professor of nursing said, "It's kind of like sexuality -- we don't talk to individuals about their sexuality." "But more and more people are finding ways to define fate, and patients want health care providers to talk about their fate."

In a 1994 article from the Journal of Family Practice, it was found that 48 percent of the patients surveyed would like their doctors to pray with them. A 1998 survey released by Yankelovich Partner Inc. said 74 percent of all Americans would like to engage in a spiritual or religious dialogue with their doctor.

David Larson, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research in Maryland thinks that medical schools are filling a need. "A high number of people believe faith can aid their healing, but few doctors talk to their patients about faith." "Studies have shown that individuals who don't know they're being prayed for have had a quicker and better recovery," Mansen added.

Harvard is one of eight medical school that received an award from the National Institute for Healthcare Research for creating courses that integrated medicine and spirituality. "Spirituality has healing properties," said Herbert Benson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard.

"What we do is teach them how to evoke the relaxation response so if the person is non-religious they can use words like peace and love," Benson said. "It's the power of mind, body and direction that come about from belief."

Jay Jacobson is a physician and the chief of medical ethics at LDS Hospital. "Everyone has a background -- genetically, religiously, economically, medically," Jacobson said. "I don't find any of those more or less important than the other." "There's more to life than potassium, patients with serious illnesses or who are facing death know that." "Illness is much bigger than just disease. It involves humans and humans are complex beings."

Christine Bennett, a registered nurse and ethicist at LDS Hospital, believes spirituality is no longer taboo. "For a while it was thought to be unethical but it's not about doctors proselytizing to patients about what religion they should be," Bennett said.

With baby boomers aging, there is an increased awareness of death and the need to prepare for the final stages of life. "People are embracing the religion and spirituality that individuals have during that time to make that transition better," Bennett said.

"The inadequacies around dying patients involved all of us -- physicians, nurses, anyone who might be involved in a patient's care," Bennett said. "Even families have sort of helped us in that inadequacy because they didn't want to talk about it either -- it was the conspiracy of silence."


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