Observations Lobby Watch

Christian Medical Fellowship

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4586 (Published 20 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4586
  1. Jane Cassidy, freelance journalist
  1. janecassi2{at}googlemail.com

What is it?

The Christian Medical Fellowship was formed in 1949, its mission to unite and equip Christian healthcare professionals. Its members include more than 4000 doctors and around 1000 medical students in the United Kingdom.

Abortion, palliative care, and new technologies in medicine are all important topics for the fellowship. Members regularly engage in media debate to promote pro-life and anti-euthanasia arguments.

But it is the question of how Christian doctors share their faith with patients that is currently causing the most controversy. A fellowship member, Richard Scott, is challenging a formal warning from the General Medical Council for speaking about religion to a patient. He is taking his case to a full hearing, supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

The Kent general practitioner was sent a warning letter by the GMC after the patient’s mother complained that he had abused his position by “pushing religion” on to her 24 year old son. Dr Scott, a partner at a Christian practice in Margate, Kent, told the BMJ earlier this year: “The GMC said I had exploited a vulnerable patient. I say I was trying to help a needy patient” (BMJ 2011;342:d3275, doi:10.1136/bmj.d3275).

The GMC’s guidance on good medical practice tells doctors not to express personal beliefs, including political, religious, or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit patients’ vulnerability or that are likely to distress them.

What agenda does it have?

Dr Scott urged Christian GPs to put aside their reluctance to evangelise in their surgeries in an article for the fellowship’s magazine, Triple Helix, in 2002.

He wrote, “Evangelism is a job for all Christians, at all times and in all places, and Christian GPs are in a unique position to reach the lost in their local area. Sharing the gospel with patients is not an abuse of trust because God himself gives us the authority and salvation is their greatest need.” He added that he focuses on depressed patients and those wearing a cross (www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=1105).

In a follow-up article in Triple Helix in 2004 he wrote: “Let me offer a statistic from my experience of evangelism. For every eight patients I invite onto our church Alpha [evangelical teaching] courses, two come and one becomes a Christian” (www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=1268).

He said that in four years more than 60 patients had made major progress in faith through Alpha courses. Most said that they attended as a result of a personal invitation, he reported.

He admitted in the article that his “bold but potentially risky ethos” delighted some but that others were concerned about a possible abuse of position.

Describing himself as a part time GP and evangelist, he also asserted that, for him, “saving the soul was ultimately far more important than mending the body,” in his account of a medical mission he undertook to Kenya with other Christian health professionals last year (www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=25598).

More than 1000 members of the fellowship, including around 500 GPs in the UK, have taken part in a training course—the International Saline Course—devised by a US accident and emergency doctor, Bob Snyder, which is aimed at “drawing patients in a natural way one step closer to God.”

Dr Snyder claims that a wealth of scientific evidence shows that people who have deep faith in God have better health outcomes. This is a view shared by Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, which has joined forces with Dr Snyder to bring the International Saline Course to the UK.

The course teaches people about the very strong link between faith and health, Dr Saunders told BBC Radio 4’s PM news programme in June.

Where does it get its money from?

A registered charity, the fellowship charges membership fees and also raises funds through appeals. It is currently seeking donations to raise £1.2m (€1.4m; $1.9m) over three years to strengthen and expand its ministry and pay off the mortgage on its London offices.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4586

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