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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Doctor Says Physicians Must Treat Body & Soul

Dr. Yoel Abells writes about the evolving relationship between the medical profession and religion in his most recent column for Canada's National Post—glad to see that medicine is moving away from the technology-centric approach of the 20th century, which left many patients emotionally unsatisfied, and back to an earlier approach that integrated religious and spiritual elements. The "period of religious and spiritual 'rejectionism' was eating at the heart of medicine," he writes. "To those who viewed medicine as more than just a vocation, this reality was profoundly unpleasant." In his view, doctors "must learn to attend to both the body and the soul."
To that end, Abells—along with the rest of his medical school classmates—chose to commit themselves to the Prayer of Maimonides rather than the Hippocratic Oath during their graduation ceremony. "Almighty God," goes the prayer, "Thou has created the human body with infinite wisdom. Ten thousand times ten thousand organs hast Thou combined in it that act unceasingly and harmoniously to preserve the whole in all its beauty the body which is the envelope of the immortal soul. They are ever acting in perfect order, agreement and accord. ... Almighty God! Thou hast chosen me in Thy mercy to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures. I now apply myself to my profession. Support me in this great task so that it may benefit mankind, for without Thy help not even the least thing will succeed."
The religious and spiritual words, says Abells, were inspiring. "They gave context (why we should practice medicine) and texture (how medicine should be practiced). They defined the art of medicine for us, guiding us in our approach to patients," he says. "We realized that if the science of medicine is not transcended by spirituality, it is like a body without a soul, fixed and lacking in substance. It is compassionless rather than compassionate, robotic rather than human." —Heather Wax