Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Conflicts of Interest

Why religious belief should be declared as a competing interest

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 12 April 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1456

Re: Why religious belief should be declared as a competing interest

Smith and Blazeby1 seem to be implying that only ‘religious’ people hold a faith position, whilst the rest of us approach difficult ethical issues with a cool, detached neutrality. Presumably these ‘religious beliefs’ need to be seen for what they are – unscientific, irrational and dangerous. However, it is a myth that only ‘religious people’ have a faith – we all have world view convictions – why we are here, where we are going, what we value, who we love and so on. As the GMC so succinctly states, ‘all doctors have personal values that affect their day-to-day practice’.2

The second myth perpetuated here is that ‘religious’ people smuggle these biases into their work, negatively impacting patient care. Polls on issues like abortion and euthanasia show that those adhering to a secular set of values (codeword: ‘faith’) will favour the autonomy of choice above all other moral foundations, including the sanctity of life. But this too will inevitably, in the authors’ words, ‘create a risk that professional judgement or actions…will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.’ Of course, these views aren’t based on science, but on a way of seeing the world. As a case in point, the question of whether a 12-week old foetus is a ‘human life’ is no longer seriously in question. Why? Because of, among other things, the advances of science and imaging technology. The goalposts have therefore been shifted to the issue of personhood – the foetus may be human but isn’t a person - which seems to me to a moveable goalpost and arguably rather more un-scientific and irrational than a ‘traditional Christian view’.

We should all be aware of our personal beliefs that affect our medical practice. Perhaps the authors could reflect on their early statement that ‘hiding a competing interest hints at dishonesty, raising doubts about the integrity of what has been written or said’.

1. Smith R, Blazeby J. Why religious belief should be declared as a competing interest. BMJ. 2018; k1456.
2. GMC ‘Personal beliefs and medical practice’, 2013

Competing interests: No competing interests

16 April 2018
John Greenall
Medical Doctor
Luton and Dunstable Hospital