Religion and Vets

When I was in my mid 20s, and in labour, I rocked up to the hospital to give birth to my first child. I was somewhat taken aback with the forms that had to be filled in before I gave birth. I was not permitted to quickly complete the forms myself because of my condition, but had to laboriously spell out all the details to the elderly, quite officious, admitting officer.

I was booked into a Catholic Hospital where my excellent Jewish obstetrician, of Hungarian origin, was a consultant specialist.

(I will add at this point that the hospital care was very good and I had four other trips there later for similar purposes.)

When the admitting officer came to “Religion?”, I answered “None”. This was entirely unsatisfactory to her. She told me that I did not have to be Catholic but I had to put down some religion. She actively suggested C of E would be “sufficient”. I still insisted the answer was none. I was by this stage heavily in labour, however my convictions were so strong I could not be swayed by the minor matter of contractions. She actually said to me, “But nobody has no religion at all.” Finally I said to her, quite rudely I suppose, “Write ‘nil’ as in nil by mouth”. Her retort was, “But what IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG, who should we call?”  To that I replied, “Another doctor”. I was eventually admitted but the blank space on the form was pointed out to me by another administrator after the birth and she filled in “none” with a resigned air.

Religion is quite often a prominent issue around treatment of those who are dying as Denis Wright pointed out in his recent post, “Let’s get practical”, on I had another experience with this same hospital, but a much more gentle one than that above. When, after a later birth, my premature son was in the Intensive Care Nursery he was attended by many wonderful nurses. The sisters in charge were all nuns. One asked me gently would I like him to be baptized as it was clear that his life hung in the balance. I declined, saying I was not a believer. She went away quietly and tended to him but I looked at her crestfallen manner over him and realized I was being selfish. These were the people providing minute to minute care and they held very strong beliefs. It could do neither him nor me any harm to allow them to assuage their fears. I went over to her and acknowledged this and said that, although I would not be involved, she had my permission to do as she liked about the matter. I told her his full name and then asked her not to discuss the issue with me any further. I do not know what she did but her step seemed lighter when next I saw her.

Two palliative care nurses when my husband was dying insisted on talking about heaven and one described the windows in heaven that the deceased could look through to see the world.  He was more polite to her than I would have been (but he had the benefit of a shot of morphine). Appropriately, in my view, none of the wonderful palliative care doctors mentioned religion to us at all.

It seems that Veterinarians dealing with death, and particularly with euthanasia, have a much more pragmatic attitude. I have never heard God mentioned once. In my experience they discuss the reasons for decisions to be made. They look at the alternatives available and how they might be able to help, and they explain what the animal patient is experiencing etc.  I have had discussions, particularly with a vet I knew personally but also my current vet, about the relationship between how people with illness (including terminal illnesses) are treated and the way animals are treated. Their views have not always been positively slanted towards the treatment of humans. Here I refer again to Denis Wright and his excellent piece on this topic which prompted me to write these words.

Perhaps, when the admitting officer asked who I wanted called IF SOMETHING WENT WRONG, I should have said, “A vet”.


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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4 Responses to Religion and Vets

  1. An eye-opening posting, Anne. We forget that on most Australian forms in an earlier era there was room only to tick which Christian denomination you were. You were right, I think, in giving the nuns peace of mind by the baptism, for the reasons that you allude to.

    Just to correct a wrong link in case someone wants to go to my blog piece, it is

  2. zzzmkc says:

    I agree about the nuns. The last time I went to hospital to have a baby, born half an hour later, to give you an idea of the stage I was at, when I entered, the person with the forms turned out to be someone I’d gone to school with who thought it would be a good moment to engage in a long catch-up about all she’d been up to since we’d last met, rather than directing us to the obstetrics ward. That is a pretty Canberra experience, of course, (or it was then, when Canberra was smaller) but I began to think it might have been better if I’d stayed at home.

  3. Anne Powles says:

    I also had a very slow form filling in experience at the birth of my third child. Fortunately the doctor arrived, insisted the forms could wait and we just made it to the delivery room. But they wanted the forms filled in after the event, including permission for all sorts of procedures I did not require. I didn’t mind then as I had plenty of time, but it seemed quite amusing!

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