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Religions and health

Secularity that is difficult to live with

Isabelle Levy underlines in her book entitled La religion à l’hopital (Religion in hospitals), (Editions Presses de la Renaissance, 2004), that the management of religion within hospitals brings up (...)

Isabelle Levy underlines in her book entitled La religion à l’hopital (Religion in hospitals), (Editions Presses de la Renaissance, 2004), that the management of religion within hospitals brings up a number of real problems. Certain attitudes or practices display the non observance of secularity on the part of the nursing staff or the patients and the disrespect of patients’ religious freedom as well.
Thus, the Stasi Commission’s report on Secularity of 12 December 2003 highlighted that "civil servants demanded they be able to work while wearing a yarmulke or headscarf, signs of their religious affiliation. Recently, house physicians also expressed this desire".
Some staff members, in the name of their religion, refuse to practice acts that come under their professional scope of activities (laying out corpses, treating patients of the opposite sex, etc.) or be on duty certain days of the week. For the same reasons, hospital directors have closed down termination of pregnancy units, claiming budget difficulties, refused to equip hospitals with areas to hold funeral vigils, and are against hiring non-Catholic chaplains.
The Stasi Commission’s report also mentioned "husbands and fathers refusing, for religious reasons, to have male doctors treat or deliver the babies of their wives or daughters. In the same way women have been deprived of an epidural. Nurses have been challenged on the basis of their supposed religion. More generally, some patients’ religious preoccupations can disrupt the functioning of the hospital."
Patients and their families have also experienced infringements of their right to freely exercise religion in public hospitals. Several injustices have been observed, including forced or prohibited religious services, refusal to call in a chaplain, challenging the right to pray and non-observance of dietary restrictions. These attitudes show that the health care personnel knows absolutely nothing about everyone’s rights and duties.

20 November 2012

Health, an emerging concern

The importance being attached to the human body and health issues in today’s society also echoes in the area of religion. Thus, we are witnessing an increasing number of charismatic movements, (...)

The importance being attached to the human body and health issues in today’s society also echoes in the area of religion.
Thus, we are witnessing an increasing number of charismatic movements, particularly those of the Pentecostal genre. Convinced that the salvation of the soul cannot be separated from physical well-being, these movements place emphasis on acts of healing.
Evidence of the (growing) interest in healing is seen in the increased number of pilgrimages (in particular healing pilgrimages) undertaken by people. In the Roman Catholic Church, there is also a significant increase in the number of exorcist priests. There were about twenty such Priests in the 60’s in France, today, they number 119.

Source: Bernard Boutter (CSRES – Strasbourg), "Pluralité religieuse et marché thérapeutique: la métaphore et ses limites", Colloque Pluralisation religieuse et logiques de marché, Strasbourg, octobre 2005.

22 November 2012

Secularity (Laïcité) in health-care facilities

Secularity in hospital is ruled by Article R1112-46 of the Public Health Code, as well as by the circular on secularity in health facilities of 2 February 2005 (see also the legal framework of (...)

Secularity in hospital is ruled by Article R1112-46 of the Public Health Code, as well as by the circular on secularity in health facilities of 2 February 2005 (see also the legal framework of chaplaincy services in hospitals on the Eurel website).

As every citizen has the right to free exercise of their religion, this possibility must also be available to those who have been hospitalized and who are limited in their ability to travel. Any public health facility must then allow to patients requesting it, free access to them of ministers of worship of their choice.

The circular on secularity in health-care establishments of 2 February 2005 comprises two main chapters. The first (“religious liberty, principles of neutrality and non-discrimination”) recalls that the principle of secularity, which must be respected in hospital, involves both equality of treatment of patients and a neutrality on behalf of hospital officials.

Patients “are thus guaranteed the free practice of their religion and the manifestation of their religious beliefs”, to the extent that requests “are compatible with the requirements of a good provision of care”. The opportunity to participate in worship, to receive the visit of the minister of worship of their choice, and to follow the precepts of their religion (e.g. meditation, food, funeral rites) must be assured. These rights shall be exercised in the respect for the freedom of others and proselytism is prohibited. Moreover, the principle of neutrality applies to hospital officials.

The second chapter deals with “free choice of practitioner and discrimination towards a public service agent”. It recalls the patient’s right to a free choice of practitioner and health facility. This discretion must, however, be exercised by the patient himself and not by a parent or close relation; on the other hand, this requirement must be reconciled with the rules of the organization of the department and does not apply to emergency situations. It is recalled that "the free choice of the patient does not allow for the person in care to oppose a member of the care team carrying out an act of diagnosis or care for reasons related to the assumed or real religion of this member of the team."

The charter of the hospitalized person recalls these principles of respect for beliefs and convictions of persons welcomed into a health care facility, who must be able to participate in the exercise of their religion, provided that this does not affect the department’s operation or the quality of care.

Finally, the law on data protection (Informatique et libertés) of 6 January 1978 prohibits collection of personal data on philosophical or religious beliefs. This explains why information related to patients’ religious practice will be recorded in the record of care but will never be computerized, nor preserved on paper beyond the patient’s hospital stay.

The Observatoire de la laïcité (Monitoring group on secularism) has published in February 2016, the guide pratique sur la question du fait religieux dans les établissements de santé (guidelines on secularism in public health facilities).


- A video summarising these information is available on line: La laïcité dans la Fonction publique hospitalière, (secularism in public hospitals), Association nationale pour la formation permanente du personnel hospitalier (ANFH) Haute-Normandie.
- See also the bibliography of the Commission "Écoles Paramédicales" of the Ascodocpsy network : Laïcité à l’hôpital.

27 January 2017