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Responding to religious patients: why physicians have no business doing theology
  1. Jake Greenblum1,
  2. Ryan K Hubbard2
  1. 1 University Health System, San Antonio, Texas, USA
  2. 2 Philosophy, Gulf Coast State College, Panama City, Florida, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan K Hubbard, Social Sciences, Gulf Coast State College, Panama City 32401-1041, USA; rhubbard2{at}


A survey of the recent literature suggests that physicians should engage religious patients on religious grounds when the patient cites religious considerations for a medical decision. We offer two arguments that physicians ought to avoid engaging patients in this manner. The first is the Public Reason Argument. We explain why physicians are relevantly akin to public officials. This suggests that it is not the physician’s proper role to engage in religious deliberation. This is because the public character of a physician’s role binds him/her to public reason, which precludes the use of religious considerations. The second argument is the Fiduciary Argument. We show that the patient-physician relationship is a fiduciary relationship, which suggests that the patient has the clinical expectation that physicians limit themselves to medical considerations. Since engaging in religious deliberations lies outside this set of considerations, such engagement undermines trust and therefore damages the patient-physician relationship.

  • clinical ethics
  • moral and religious aspects
  • applied and professional ethics
  • decision-making
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  • Contributors RKH and JG contributed substantially and equally to the content, arguments and organisation of the paper.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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