Dr. X's dilemma.. =)


Apologies if this is the wrong forum. Consider the following situation, which I am stripping down to its bare bones.

Dr. X is Catholic, and working in a hospital cum research institute. Said institution caters to a wide variety of patients, including children with autism and intellectual disability. The institution itself has no official research policy.

Dr. Y approaches Dr. X with a proposal for a therapeutic intervention in said group of children, because Dr. X has access to them and is involved in their care.

The intervention involves a non-Catholic religious procedure. (I’m deliberately keeping it vague, because I want to consider this question in the abstract. Examples could be invoking the name of Allah, chanting “Hare Krishna”, calling upon Thor and Odin, and so forth. :p)

Dr. X wants to object on two grounds: first (trivially) because this sounds like unscientific “woo”, and second (more seriously) because he’s wary of such invocations and incantations, especially in a vulnerable patient population that will be searching for a literal miracle.

Is Dr. X right in objecting to participate in such research? Should he be “objective” and evaluate the treatment purely on scientific grounds (as he would, say, a drug or psychotherapy)? Or should he abstain because of the potential spiritual risks involved in such a study?

Dr. X*

(Yes, I’ve always wanted to call myself Dr. X. Mwa ha ha ha ha! :D)


I guess maybe there could be some tiny placebo affect, based on the belief structure of the participant (if it aligns with whichever incantation) but I would be wary of being around the invocation of false gods… :S


That is my concern, exactly. I have no problem with the placebo effect (it’s a part of my daily life) but the “spiritual” angle to this bothers me.

(ETA: There’s a typo in my initial post. It should read “the institute has no official religious policy.”)


It would bother me too


With the growing trend of some saying that all those who worship, worship the same God, it would depend on whether Dr. X falls into that new category. If not, then the NT would provide much guidance.

Let’s say the gods of Dr. Y granted a wish or two and some Catholic children and parents switched religions. Not so good, that.

Did Dr. X run this idea by the medical director? The parents? Perhaps this is a ‘progressive’ facility. I suspect, however, Dr. X would find his credibility dropping to zero with a few of the parents (as well as some staff). Or would this ‘therapeutic intervention’ be on the sly?

Do legitimate ‘faith healers’ go to medical school as a back-up? :wink:


My first reaction would be to say that as a former medic who has given many a patient conditional baptisms I see no reason not to mix spirituality/religion with medicine unless there were ethical issues noted in the company policy. However I believe if I were in Doctor X’s position, and also Catholic and well versed in catechism as well as proficient in Canon Law AND felt that some greater good or valuable data could be obtained by condoning the experiment I would NOT take it upon myself. At least not of included breaking the first commandment.

   I would first direct Doctor Y to the hospital chaplain (if there is one) as they may be able to officiate various religious services due to the nature of their job. This would keep my own butt out of the proverbial skillet.......and if my hospital did not have one I would direct Doctor Y to the Chief of Medicine or........perhaps even the Nurse Manager. Should the data need to he gathered by Doctor X of the results that does not mean Doctor X would have to engage in idol worship himself. But if he allowed others religious freedom (part of Catholic Social Justice) then that would not be any sin or faux pas.

I hope that helps, God Bless!


I would examine the hypothesis behind the research. I am very dubious of any extra-curriculum research on children per se. I would examine the working protocols of the research being considered and the involvement of the parents/guardians of the children.
I would look at my own conscience in considering any involvement in spiritual interventions in persons under my care. I would be astute enough in the recognition of my own medical skills to seriously consider my initial woo reaction. Hope this helps, Dr. X


I’d say that the experiment design here is seriously lacking.

If there is no paranormal, then the experiment is a waste of time. On the other hand, if there is paranormal, then safety aspects have not been addressed apropriately. Also, human experimentation requires informed consent.

Go to the library and come back with a better design.

(Yes, I am a scientist.)


If I were Dr. X, I would object on both grounds. It does sound like unscientific woo, and you should be wary of bringing alternative spirituality into the equation.

But I have to admit, I’m curious. As a mother of a boy with autism and as a clinical research specialist, I’d love a peek at the protocol. :hmmm:

And it’s true that some autism parents are desperate for a cure, which has made them sometimes vulnerable to crackpots and snake oil salesmen. So extra care should be taken not to give them false hope.


Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. X thanks you very much. You’ve all been very helpful and very enlightening.

LA Lindsay - we’ve had a closer look at the work, and there are major flaws: no control group, no clear outcome measure, mixed patient population, and a vanity-published paper. While my heart goes out to all children with autism and their families, this certainly looks like snake oil. :rolleyes:

Weller - I agree. In fact, we’ve had a preliminary departmental meeting that has raised exactly those issues (plus the fact that the intervention scheduled will probably not go down well at all in a multicultural society). It looks like we’ll be giving it a pass.

Petaro - exactly. The initial study seems to have been done on children in a residential school with no semblance of consent. That itself gives me reasons for outright dismissal. Besides, the intervention seems to be merely making children listen to some form of chanting. I will suggest replacing it with either Gregorian chant or “Waltzing Matilda”. :wink:

Trevblum - good point. My initial reaction was to hand this on to a colleague who is comfortable with this form of spirituality, but we still have to consider patients and their families. I’m going to nix it.

Jeanne - the facility itself is secular (run by the government), but I’m certainly not one who believes that “all worship is equivalent”. Point well made. My own role as a gatekeeper would incline me to prudence, and I believe that’s what I will do.

You guys are the best. :thumbsup:


What about a study on the effects of balancing gut flora through diet (GAPs/Paleo/Primal) on autism?


True. There are several more worthy options to be explored, as you suggest. Perhaps I can gently put this across to our over-zealous researchers. :slight_smile:


On second thoughts, Waltzing Matilda may indeed be therapeutic. Hee Hee!



I was going to post a link to “The Shane Warne Song” here (good therapy for depression!), but it’d probably be against forum rules… :stuck_out_tongue:


Dear Dr. X :wink:

I think the doctor should try to be objective about this and evaluate it only scientifically.
First, because even tho to the doctor, it sounds “woo” it might work…and a lot of things sound “woo” to people at first if it is new and years later, it becomes a common practice or drug, so I wouldn’t base an objection on those grounds unless it sounds way over the top nutty…

Second…I would let the parents decide on whether their child can “spiritually” do this (I assume you are talking about risks of the children’s souls? Or did you mean the doctor? Are you the doctor in this example or no? :slight_smile:
The parents may not agree with you on either the woo/soul factor, especially if they are not Catholic. They may really want their child to try this and it may really help them.



If you were in the US, this would never happen. And if it did, it would be blacklisted from “medical journals”… :slight_smile: I don’t know how things are in India. :smiley:


Said “intervention” involves making a group of autistic children listen to canned chanting invoking a “Sun God”. While it is true that music can potentially activate the right hemisphere, it needs to be rigorously tested, and kept free of such content - if it’s the music or the sound that does the trick, why bring Apollo, Surya or Aton into it? :stuck_out_tongue:

Second…I would let the parents decide on whether their child can “spiritually” do this (I assume you are talking about risks of the children’s souls? Or did you mean the doctor? Are you the doctor in this example or no? :slight_smile:

Risks to both. And yes, Dr. X is one of my many aliases. :slight_smile:

The parents may not agree with you on either the woo/soul factor, especially if they are not Catholic. They may really want their child to try this and it may really help them.

They’re free to try, but I’m also free to be skeptical. As I said, I’m going to pass this on to the concerned authorities and let them rule on it. :wink:



Oh, we’re a lot more “alternative-friendly” over here. At the last place I worked, the Government was willing to spend around 100,000,000 rupees (roughly $1.6 million) for an “Advanced Centre in Yoga Research”, but was reluctant to fork out 1/1000 of that amount for essential medications for patients with epilepsy or mental illness. :stuck_out_tongue:


Also, you have real palak paneer and dal makhani, soooo…


Of course we do. As far as food is concerned, we’re a First World country and a superpower. :slight_smile:

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