Monday, 7 November 2011

The Lords Spiritual, Exorcism, and the NHS

The UK's selection of some of its legislators by their religious beliefs (the 26 Lords Spiritual - senior Bishops - in the House of Lords) puts it in the same club as Iran. Bringing this incredible practice into the spotlight are the frankly bizarre utterances of the Archbishop of York who, in supporting a motion by the crossbench peer Baroness Hollins, explained how the NHS should be bound to take care of the spiritual health of people, not just their mental and physical health.

The Archbishop of York, who thinks that exorcism has relevance to the debate on the Health Bill

He illustrated his point by a wonderful story (from "Archbishop calls for NHS Bill to cover spiritual health" at BBC News):
...when he first became a vicar in south London, he was invited to a home where there was "a presence ", a phrase he said he did not understand at the time. At the home, he said, he found a young girl who had been unable to move for nearly three weeks and would shout out in the middle of the night. He was told the family had been to a witches' coven where a goat had been sacrificed. The young girl was petrified she would be next. Visits from a GP, psychiatrist and psychologist did little to help, he said, but then he said a prayer, anointed the girl and lit a candle on his visit. Shortly after, he received a phone call saying the girl was no longer terrified and was talking again. "That was not mental or physical illness; there was something in her spirit that needed to be set free" he told his peers.
The Archbishop's utterances are not much more bizarre than the motion by Baroness Hollins, who is a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists seem to get themselves into all sorts of problems with matters spiritual. The new Recommendations for Psychiatrists on Spirituality and Religion (PDF Link) is authored by Professor Christopher Cook (Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group) who believes that mental disorder can be caused by demonic possession (published and presumably endorsed by the Christian Medical Fellowship). Here's the astonished response to his beliefs by me and by the medical ethicist Iain Brassington at the BMJ Medical Ethics Blog. Baroness Hollins's motion is equally bizarre, but with supporters like the Archbishop, you don't need me to tell you that. Time for the UK to exorcise the Lords Spiritual from its legislature.

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