25 November 2013

Humanist Debate: Irrationality in Healthcare

I joined the British Humanist Association (BHA) recently, too add my voice to those opposed to the inappropriate imposition of religion into many aspects of our lives, and have started to get involved a little by attending lectures and debates.

The BHA has a regional organisation and I am in the South West London Humanists Group which runs its own events, including a monthly discussion in the conveniently located Old Ship pub in Richmond.

The discussion in November was led by Dr. Ed Presswood from The Secular Medical Forum and was on Irrationality in Healthcare.

He described a range of non-scientific practices used by the NHS, from not having A&E beds numbered 13 through to performing circumcisions on babies.

Along the way we learnt that a hangman's noose has 13 knots, some Irish do not like to be discharged on a Saturday as "a Saturday flit is a short sit" and religion still interferes with health by, for example, blocking right to die campaigns.

We were then asked to consider where the NHS should draw the line on irrational behaviour and we did this in small groups before coming back together for a summary at the end.

What follows are some scraps of notes taken during the discussion embellished by some further thought.

Science and Religion have their own views of what is right and it is impossible for one to persuade the other of their version of the truth. Therefore we often have to work in the middle and accept that we are not going to agree. If you are worried about number 13, or any other superstition, then I need to respect that. I might want to convince you of your folly but, in a health situation, this is secondary to your wellbeing.

If we are to be intolerant of the number 13 then perhaps we should stop lying to children about the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas.

I am very much on the side of science but we have to accept that our science changes and what was right, say, ten years ago is not always right now. Thalidomide was right once.

Patients are allowed to refuse a good treatment but cannot demand a bad one. If the good treatment is refused this could be traced back to bad education in which case we have to consider whether the patient is truly making an informed choice. Does an informed choice ever exist in this context?

If scientific logic is important to the NHS then we should beyond the simple medical. For example why do they serve meat when this is a grossly inefficient use of the planet's resources and is unnecessary for wellbeing.

I was somewhat surprised at how often money was suggested in the discussion as a means of moderating behaviour, e.g. getting people to pay for things that the NHS would rather not do. This approach always means that the rich can (continue to) do what they like and only the poor have their behaviour moderated.

I guess that just because we were all Humanists that does not mean that we agree on everything else too.

I enjoyed the conversations but I think that the question we were asked to consider was a little to side for us to get anywhere near any meaningful conclusions. Not that that mattered, I was there for the ride not the destination.

I'll be back there for another ride on another topic when my diary allows me to do so.

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