Responding to religious patients: why physicians have no business doing theology

Jake Greenblum, Ryan K. Hubbard

Journal of Medical Ethics

Abstract: A survey of the recent literature suggests that physicians should engage religious patients on religious grounds when the patient cites religious considerations for a medical decision. We offer two arguments that physicians ought to avoid engaging patients in this manner. The first is the Public Reason Argument. We explain why physicians are relevantly akin to public officials. This suggests that it is not the physician’s proper role to engage in religious deliberation. This is because the public character of a physician’s role binds him/her to public reason, which precludes the use of religious considerations. The second argument is the Fiduciary Argument. We show that the patient-physician relationship is a fiduciary relationship, which suggests that the patient has the clinical expectation that physicians limit themselves to medical considerations. Since engaging in religious deliberations lies outside this set of considerations, such engagement undermines trust and therefore damages the patient-physician relationship.


Greenblum J, Ryan K ubbard RK. Responding to religious patients: why physicians have no business doing theology. J Med Ethics 2019;45:705-710. Published Online First: 20 Jun 2019. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-105452

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