Dr. Hassaballa in the Chicago Tribune

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

This post was published on the Seeker blog on the Chicago Tribune website on October 29.

Medication, surgery, spirituality should remain in balance

As a physician, I believe spirituality is a very special and important part of the overall health and well being of a patient. Many people, including the author, turn to the Divine in times of pain and illness, and religion and spirituality can be very important sources of comfort and ease for someone who is physically ill.

Many physicians may be uncomfortable with introducing spirituality, but I do believe it has a role. Whenever I enter a patient’s room and find the chaplain there praying with the patient, I always wait outside until the session is over, respecting the privacy of the patient’s spiritual needs. Having that type of service at hospitals is extremely vital and necessary.

Having said that, however, I would be extremely uncomfortable if a patient told me – after I had informed them of a diagnosis of lung cancer, for example – that they would rather “pray it away.”

I probably would ask them to see another physician.

Now, I am quite devout and deeply religious. I turn to God every single day of my life; I think it enhances my practice of medicine. It helps me “speak the language” of my more religious patients, and I am not intimidated if someone brings God into a discussion. Yet, I do not think that a potentially curable lung cancer will go away with prayer alone. It needs surgical resection, even though I would encourage prayer that the treatment works and there are no complications from surgery.

Proper medicine includes the right mixture of medications, surgery, diagnostic testing, and, yes, spirituality. They should always, however, remain in balance.


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