Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Doctor's Perspective On Quebec's Proposed Charter

While the proposed Quebec Charter of Values has elicited a variety of strong responses, some decrying it as thinly-veiled racism, others hailing it as a bold blueprint for secularism, there is something that up to this point has been missing from the debate: the fact that, whether openly acknowledged or not, there exists within humans something more than our prejudices, our instincts, our principles, and our rationality.

There is a spiritual dimension.

It is easy to mock religious sentiment. Professional atheists such as Richard Dawkins do it all the time, but they tend to target the unsophisticated and risible parodies that pass as religious belief today: literal interpretations of the Bible, God as a kind of cosmic Santa Claus who gives us what we ask for, a.k.a. the prosperity gospel, creationism, the ravings of unhinged people like Pat Robertson, etc. etc. In my mind, transcendent reality is likely much more subtle and nuanced, glimpses of which we get as we go about our daily lives.

In yesterday's Toronto Star, Dr. Samir Gupta, who practices medicine in both Quebec and Ontario, offers his perspective on the Quebec Charter that indirectly addresses this other reality. Essentially, he contends that the kind of 'rational' neutrality the Charter calls for would be a grave disservice to many people during those times when something beyond the material is needed:

Doctors play an integral role in some of the most intimate and difficult moments in people’s lives. Moments such as learning that one has an incurable chronic condition, or worse, a terminal disease. Indeed, moments when a person will often turn to religion.

Rather than simply imparting objective information about prognoses, etc., doctors are often expected and called upon by their patients for much more:

...doctors advise families about withdrawal of life-sustaining therapy when their loved one is in a vegetative state. They also routinely propose whether and under what circumstances cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be offered to a patient with a grave and terminal illness.

Gupta points out that such advice often goes beyond the strictly medical to involve the physician's own values and beliefs, especially when asked what decision they would make under such circumstances:

These situations occur every day in our health-care system. As described, they engender a “human” response from doctors — one that is invariably influenced by their religious beliefs, philosophy and world view, whether they like it or not.

Gupta suggests that this ability to advise by drawing upon spiritual dimensions is valued by patients and their families.

An interesting perspective, one that clearly deserves to be part of the debate.


  1. I sympathize with the roots of Dr. Gupta's analysis. There is an important difference between a secular 'state' and the important benefits that we can gain from certain public servants sharing their personal beliefs with us - whether that is a doctor or a teacher.

    Unfortunately, given the legalistic state of our modern society, I can't help thinking such a discourse is too complicated for many people the present debate. I think the most important thing is to make people understand that personal expressions have nothing to do with making a state more or less secular. I people can understand this very simple fact, they can then see this legislation for what it is - racism practiced for the sake of wedge politics pure and simple.

    Still, thanks for posting, it is interesting to hear voices like Gupta's

    1. Thanks for your insights on the issue, Kirby. Unfortunately, politics as practised today seems to preclude the thoughtful deliberations that good policy requires. That seems particularly evident in the proposed Quebec legislation.

  2. Lorne, I consider a secular state which does not interfere with people's beliefs. That is not only controlling the actions of public but also their thoughts. Quebec Charter of Rights hardly touches Catholicism but goes after other religions. That is where it becomes purely racism and bigotry.

    I don't much care for organized religions and rituals. However, if these rituals are harmless then it is nobody's business to tell the practitioner to stop. I also believe there is more to life than physical existence. If a computer or any other contraption breaks it can be fixed - a car's dead engine can be replaced. However, when a living being takes the last breath nothing or nobody can revive that dead body. What is that leaves the physical body that with even all the new organs cannot be brought back to ‘life’? I have no answers but it is something to ponder about.

    1. You pose a very good questions here, LeDaro, one that I think deserves much contemplation. It is that questioning aspect of humanity that the Quebec Charter, in my view, is far too dismissive of.