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A friend who is a well known surgeon also happens to be a deeply spiritual person and is the author of several books on spiritualism and surgery. His logic is simple; he thinks that if he cares enough about his patient then the least he can do is to bring in another nonmedical dimension to the entire process which he thinks might ultimately make the patient’s recovery more comfortable, uncomplicated and rapid.
He was quite at ease with this covert inner procedure till it dawned on him one day, after several friends who came to know of it (mainly through his writings) if he had ever considered the possibility of his patients also finding out the same? Their first gut reaction might very well be something like: “Hmm…this guy must not be so sure of his surgical capabilities and is, therefore, invoking some sort of ‘higher power’ to intercede. Can I really put my life in his hands?”
It was the first time my friend realised one of the consequences of this might be the undermining of patients’ confidence in his expertise. So that’s when he decided to come clean — but unfortunately it didn’t turn out like anything he thought it might, because the lady’s remediate reaction was: “You mean you’re going to pray that the operation succeeds?”
He tried to explain that was not the case at all. He was going to do the very best according to his experience, along with the aid of everything his learning had taught him in his life, but that thereafter my friend could definitely do with all the extra medical help that might be available.
That was when she pulled an unexpected twist on him. She told him that she was an atheist and didn’t believe in or thought she needed any of that kind of aid in the procedure or recovery process. Therefore, and more importantly, did not require any non-surgical intervention. She also insisted that he not pray for her.
It was the first time, he had encountered such a dilemma and was in a fix. He said later that he had no idea whether she had a right to tell him this and dispose of anything he sincerely believed was an integral part of his work. On the other hand, she also wanted to know if she had any guarantee that he would, in fact, not go ahead all the same.
We have no idea what transpired between them after that. In the course of the normal, post-surgical period, all went well and her subsequent recovery was uneventful without any complications. And for the record, he did end up praying without letting her know till many months later. That’s when she told him about another set of unrelated but similar circumstances and wanted to know what his reactions would have been.
“Supposing,” she told him, “there was a mortally wounded soldier dying on a battlefield and wanted to be administered the final rites as it would be sinful according to him to be done without. Suppose, too, that the only person around was another soldier, who in the absence of a chaplain could be the only person to deliver those last rites. Suppose, finally also that that person turned out to be an atheist and refused to do so on the grounds that it would go against his non-beliefs.
Besides that, one of the reasons he would not go through with it was because it would be of no use as there was no question of the existence of a supreme being overseeing all manner of redemption. But the dying soldier insisted that it would do nobody any harm if he were to simply hold the holy book in his hands and oversaw the person’s process of internalising the benediction till he died.”
My friend said he came away from the encounter totally stumped. Now he doesn’t pray for someone who doesn’t want it.