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In medicine, a spiritual crisis

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2003 - Summer


Medical science has, in the last century and a half, permitted miracles unimaginable in the day of Hippocrates, says Daniel P. Sulmasy, M.D., Ph.D., a Franciscan friar and director of the Bioethics Institute of New York Medical College. Yet, he says, physicians are among the most dissatisfied of professionals. The science and economics of healing, he told an audience at the Program for Humanities in Medicine Lecture Series in January, have dehumanized medicine. “I believe people are reaching a point which is very close to crisis,” he said. “I believe the crisis is primarily a spiritual one.”

Illness, he said, is a disruption of relationships within the body. Healing is the art of restoring “right relationships.” That requires more than a seven-minute office visit, with referrals to unknown specialists or prescriptions for medications limited to those on an HMO’s approved list. It requires a strong relationship between physician and patient. “What is the meaning of medicine? What is its value? What are right and good healing relationships about?” he asked. “Those are spiritual questions.”