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Faith Healers

Some states specifically exempt faith healers from the legal restrictions on medical practice. All states must recognize the right of a consenting adult to follow personal religious beliefs in making choices about health care. This does not mean that a physician must participate in medically questionable care. It is unwise for physicians to work with faith healers in the care of a patient in the way that they would work with a nurse or a psychologist. The fundamental theories of treatment are not compatible. Legally physicians are held to the general standards of care for allopathic or osteopathic medicine, not to the standards of the religion.

This does not mean that physicians may not tailor medical care to meet the needs of patients with specific religious beliefs. Concerned physicians have become specialists in providing surgical care for Jehovah's Witnesses and family planning for Roman Catholic couples. Many hospitals have chaplaincy programs that minister to the spiritual needs of patients during the stressful times of birth, illness, and death. The physician must avoid becoming the religious adviser rather than the medical care provider. A Roman Catholic physician who is asked about the advisability of oral contraceptives should discuss the medical risks and benefits, not the religious implications. A physician who is asked to participate in a prayer session for faith healing should decline.

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