Ethics & law
Talking to patients about religious beliefs
A medicolegal adviser gives advice on some common ethical dilemmas faced by medical students
Talking to patients with a terminal illness can be challenging for medical students. Learning how to listen, understand how the patient is feeling, and say the right thing are skills with which even experienced doctors sometimes struggle. For some people religion is inextricably linked with discussions about end of life care, and it raises the question of whether personal beliefs should ever be discussed with patients.
In June 2012, the General Medical Council considered a complaint against a general practitioner who had expressed his religious beliefs to a patient.1 He was found to have done so in a way that distressed his patient and his actions were said to have been in direct conflict with GMC guidance, which states: “You must not impose your beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views.”2 The doctor was given a formal