By Paul D. Simmons 239 pp, $30 Macon, GA, Mercer University Press, 2009 ISBN-13: 978-0-8814-6085-8 Paul Simmons' book deals with dilemmas in which medicine and religion each have a stake. Sometimes these stakes are very much at odds with each other, leaving patients as well as physicians in a quandary. With chapters on dilemmas such as suffering, false hope, health care, aging, the right to die, physician-assisted suicide, artificial organs, stem cell usage, abortion, and mental illness, this book seemingly has the potential to bring clarity to the various positions held by adherents to religions and organized medicine alike. It is clear that a person's (whether patient or health professional) religious belief system (or lack thereof) might guide his or her decision-making in these areas. However, the title—Faith and Health: Religion, Science, and Public Policy—implies that most chapters will cover the aforementioned dilemmas in light of these 3 areas. That is not always the case. In several chapters, religion and science play leading roles, with little attention to public policy, while in other chapters, ethics is highlighted, again with little attention to public policy. In still other chapters, religion per se is not the focus at all. In addition, the book concerns itself not with religion in general but with Christianity; other world religions are mentioned only in passing. As such, the book's title might mislead an unsuspecting buyer who anticipates learning about a variety of faiths or religions. The author, a physician and philosopher, stands on firm ground when he writes about either of his 2 specialties. He has clear opinions, and he airs them. When he is discussing issues that seem of great importance to him (eg, stem cell usage), he tends to argue passionately for his point of view. With regard to areas of medicine, philosophy-driven ethics, or public health, he provides multiple footnotes. When the author explores areas of religion and scripture, however, he tends to make sweeping statements, some of them patently wrong. For example, in the chapter on physician-assisted suicide, he writes that “Making decisions to hasten death also seems consistent with a Christian theology of death and resurrection” (p 153). This is simply incorrect. In fact, from the earliest days of the Church, when it was persecuted by the Roman Empire, individuals were warned not to rush to be martyrs (ie, die for their faith) if they merely wanted to leave this life and get to a better realm of existence. As another example, in the same chapter, the author reads a passage in St Paul's letter to the Philippians (1:23), in which Paul saw life as fruitful labor and death as gain (because he would be with Christ) in this way: “Paul was apparently stating openly an option he felt existed for him to carry out privately” (p 150). While Paul might have been arguing the merits of a “noble death” in dying for Christ (which not all Bible scholars agree that he is doing), the fact remains that Paul opted for life because he saw intentional death as selfish. Because no references are given for either of his 2 statements, one wonders if Simmons was trying to read into the Christian tradition what he wanted it to hold to support his own view. Such broad statements are not, however, limited to the area of religion. To give one example, on page 61, in the chapter on false hope in the intensive care unit, Simmons writes that “Beginning medical students are more often motivated by the thought of wealth and prestige than that of serving people with healthcare needs.” In my experience of teaching first- and second-year medical students in an inner-city teaching hospital, this is not the case. In fact, these young students are perhaps too idealistic in how much they believe they can do to alleviate the suffering they see all around them. How much they are going to be paid is less a concern than just how good a physician they each can become. Again, Simmons provides no reference for his far-reaching generalization. Despite such instances, much of what this author has written is valuable, and it is clear that he has done much research in a number of areas to produce this book. Faith and Health will be of interest primarily to Christian clinicians and Christian clergy, although some of the latter might have difficulty with several interpretations of scripture passages that the author uses to make certain points. Although the chapter on health care reform certainly addresses public policy, it is the only chapter that does so in a comprehensive way. Hence, the book's usefulness to makers of public policy, even those of the Christian faith, is limited. Back to top Article Information Financial Disclosures: None reported.
– American Medical Association
Published: Feb 3, 2010