It was a surprise to discover earlier this week that the NSS accepted a key argument against euthanasia, give that they campaign in favour of it. But the heat is possibly getting to them. Consider this motion, of which parts 3-5 were rejected by the British Medical Association yesterday:
That this Meeting:
(i) recognises that the NHS is committed to providing spiritual care for patients;
(ii) notes the position on inappropriate discussion of faith matters in GMC Guidance on Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice;
(iii) while welcoming the constructive and necessary advice in the document "Religion or belief", is concerned that some paragraphs suggest that any discussion of spiritual matters with patients or colleagues could lead to disciplinary action;
(iv) believes that offering to pray for a patient should not be grounds for suspension;
(v) calls on Health Departments to allow appropriate consensual discussion of spiritual matters within the NHS, when done with respect for the views and sensitivities of individuals.
and this interpretation from the NSS (Ht Doug Chaplin)
Doctors have voted down a Christian motion at the BMA conference that would have given carte blanche for religious medical practitioners to “share their faith” without restraint.
Ok, read the motion again. "Consensual" "respect for the views and sensitivities of individuals", "offering to pray". As Mike Peatman points out, that's not carte blanche in any translation of the French. Either the NSS haven't read the motion that the BMA were debating, or they have chosen deliberately to misrepresent it.
Now this poses a couple of problems:
- One of the supposed assets of secularism is its application of reason to the facts. It doesn't reflect well that the most-quoted secularist organisation (though they're oddly secretive about total membership), neither has a grasp of the facts here, nor presents them in a reasonable way.
- The NSS prides itself on sending submissions to the government on various pieces of legislation. However their reputation for distorting/ignoring the facts must undermine the credibility of any of this. If the NSS wants to be taken seriously, it should try a bit harder to establish a reputation for truthfulness. Alternatively if they just want to play yah-boo rentaquote, then they shouldn't complain when faith groups arguments are taken more seriously than their own.
It's also nice, but surprising, to discover that the NSS recognises the reality of spiritual health:
“Sick people want doctors to take care of their physical health and a clergyman to take care of their spiritual health. Doctors and nurses have enough to do without burdening themselves with the need to pray with patients.” (Terry Sanderson).
That's really good news, as its a basis for discussing the best way of meeting the spiritual health needs without resorting to headline-grabbing stuff about hospital chaplains, which really doesn't lead to constructive debate.
Update: the National Secular Society has never published its membership figures - you might wonder why, I couldn't possibly comment. Starcourse however has done some maths and estimates that NSS membership is still around the 7,000 level quoted in 2007.