My esteemed colleague is asking…


How are you treated as an atheist? [Via From the Ashes of Faith.]

I saw the question/post on the sidebar and felt like flexing Ye Olde Writing Muscle and answering it. Unfortunately for ashes, my answer turned into a rambling rant more suitable to inflict on you people, by which of course I mean my people: Squirrel Haters. Here’s my answer. (My comment, followed by my apology therefor, are still awaiting moderation there as of this posting.)

Reporting from NYC here, that infamous bastion of moral turpitude: feminists, POC, AOC, leftists, queer people, Muslims, godless heathens and all those other notorious devils your mother warned you about. Especially those godless heathens!

Even for me, it’s an interesting and timely question, it turns out. Soooo…I’ve recently had multiple surgeries followed by hospital admissions at an enormous, sprawling, nominally Jewish hospital-and-medical-school complex in Manhattan. It’s the kind of place where the intake forms in nearly every doctor’s office – and I’ve been to a LOT of ’em – ask for “preferred name” and “preferred pronoun,” and the various departments proudly display a rainbow flag or two with messages of welcoming and inclusivity. The staff, from renowned surgeons to janitors, is probably as diverse as the U.N.’s. You get the picture.

Now I don’t know if it’s an effect of cancer and its treatments or just a typical case of don’t-give-a-fuck-itis, but if someone who is responsible for some aspect of my medical care is going to ask me about my religion, and the physician practices all do, I say “atheist” without skipping a beat. I have that privilege here.

Or do I? Two surgeries ago back in November, I remember filling out some form or answering some questioner as usual with “athiest.” I get up to pre-op holding, and various people and teams keep dropping by to introduce themselves, then examine and interrogate me (anesthesia docs, O.R. nurses, surgical residents, etc.). I instantly forget all of their names, faces and roles. As I was being wheeled away to the O.R., one of these people, a woman perhaps in her thirties, leans over and says to me almost conspiratorially, “It was nice to see ‘atheist’ in your chart. I wish more people were so open about it.” Huh?! Okay…

As an aside here, yes yes this is a “Jewish” hospital, but nearly every single Jewish person in my circle of friends is at least agnostic, and some are quite openly atheist. And also Jewish, in the cultural sense. They celebrate and honor Jewish holidays with family and friends, just like other atheists might celebrate Christmas.

FF to my most recent surgery and admission, about a week ago. It’s 6:00am and I’m at the very first gatekeeper: the insurance coverage and your copay’s due now person. She takes my credit card and asks me the usual litany of basic biographical questions, including religion. “Atheist,” I say. She doesn’t blink, but after a few seconds appears puzzled at her screen. A supervisor type behind her apparently overheard me, and comes over to assist. It’s apparently no longer a fill-in-the-blank space, and it’s not on the (new?) drop-down menu. I mean it should be right there after Adventist, Seventh Day. Or whatever. I helpfully pitch all sorts of euphemisms like “godless?” “how about heathen?” “None?” “Listen I can take agnostic, just for today?” They’re both mystified that it’s not there. I say, “Come on, I can’t be the only one here today, there are lots of us!” They sort of mumble agreement and apologies and a “Yeah, I know some…”

I don’t know what religion they finally decided to choose on my behalf. Pretty sure the credit card part was the only real key to getting past them.

Some interesting answers are already there – maybe go have a read and answer for yourself?

Comments

  1. says

    but if someone who is responsible for some aspect of my medical care is going to ask me about my religion, and the physician practices all do

    WTF? No doctor ever in my entire life has asked me about my religious beliefs. I am surprised that where you live they are even legally allowed to do so, never mind this being common practice.

    It’s apparently no longer a fill-in-the-blank space, and it’s not on the (new?) drop-down menu. I mean it should be right there after Adventist, Seventh Day. Or whatever. I helpfully pitch all sorts of euphemisms like “godless?” “how about heathen?” “None?” “Listen I can take agnostic, just for today?” They’re both mystified that it’s not there. I say, “Come on, I can’t be the only one here today, there are lots of us!”

    There actually is written info in somebody’s medical records! Holy shit! How is this even legal? If somebody even tried to write about my religious beliefs in some legal paper like medical records, I’d be pissed off. It’s irrelevant, thus doctors shouldn’t even have a right to ask or keep records of their patients’ beliefs.

    I am fine with medical records having information like “no blood transfusions” or whatever similar, but for the majority of people their beliefs do not influence what medical procedures they want.

  2. says

    Andreas – I think the idea is that anyone in a hospital could end up dead or about to die at any moment and it should be known if they’d be bothered by X kinda cleric being in the room.

  3. says

    Great American Satan: comment away! See above re: don’t-give-a-fuck-itis. ;)
    Andreas Avester: I agree that it should be irrelevant, but when it comes to medical care in a metropolis as religiously diverse as this one, there’s a lot more to question than whether or not you will accept blood. E.g., what even counts as a blood product according to your particular sect? I’ve also found in this hospital system that xtian chaplains are abundant, if requested, as are rabbis of course (and gawd knows what all else – I don’t know because I don’t care).
    If you think about it, at least this religiously respectful approach presents a counterweight to the enormous and growing problem of Catholic hospitals in the US, which make terrible medical decisions and deny all kinds of best practices and medically appropriate care for their patients, all in accordance with Catholic religious doctrine – and they do it without their patients’ consent or knowledge.

    chigau: And I am overjoyed to be seen by you. <3

  4. Jazzlet says

    You would be asked about your religion in a British hospital if you werre undergoing surgery, just so the correct brand of chaplain would be called if necessary. I find the whole business of needing to pay and to pay up front far more shocking, it really is barbaric.

    Good to see a post from you, I’ve missed yours, so I hope this pressages an occasional post at the least.

  5. says

    abbeycadabra: No of course not, just a personal observation. ;)

    Jazzlet: It’s beyond shocking and barbaric, especially since so many do not have the means to pay. (That link at berniesanders.com goes to a report on original, peer-reviewed research in The American Journal of Public Health, written by two of the paper’s coauthors, who are also founders of Physicians for a National Health Program.) And thanks for your kind message. I’m hoping to post more too, but sometimes I cannot wordz.

  6. says

    I’ve also found in this hospital system that xtian chaplains are abundant, if requested, as are rabbis of course (and gawd knows what all else – I don’t know because I don’t care).

    The sensible alternative (namely: how things happen where I live). Doctors don’t ask about their patient’s religion. No chaplains pester a patient who hasn’t specifically requested for one. Doctors provide evidence-based healthcare by default. Only if some patient starts talking about how they don’t want some procedure due to their religious beliefs or how they want to be visited by a chaplain, only then said services are provided. By default, religion is ignored in hospitals.

    If you think about it, at least this religiously respectful approach presents a counterweight to the enormous and growing problem of Catholic hospitals in the US, which make terrible medical decisions and deny all kinds of best practices and medically appropriate care for their patients, all in accordance with Catholic religious doctrine – and they do it without their patients’ consent or knowledge.

    WTF? How comes Catholic hospitals are even allowed to exist? Hearing about such weirdness makes me really happy that I do not live in the USA.

  7. says

    Great American Satan @#5

    I think the idea is that anyone in a hospital could end up dead or about to die at any moment and it should be known if they’d be bothered by X kinda cleric being in the room.

    Here’s an alternative approach—unless the patient specifically requests for a certain cleric to visit them, no clerics are allowed to enter the room by default. (I live in the atheist country, it appears that things happen differently here.)

  8. kestrel says

    OMG. When my father lay dying of cancer one of the nurses kept coming in and pestering him telling him he only had this small amount of time, he needed to ask god something something something (not too clear on this point) until my brother and I were ready to throw this relatively short person into the dumpster out back. But it would have upset our mother, so we didn’t.

    There is a lot about consent that the USA just does not get. When someone tells you “no”, that means NO. Period.

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