This world. This place. This life.

Unsafe medicine: politics & religion in the waiting room


In September, my partner plans to join her family on a trip to Africa.  In preparation for this adventure, we scheduled an appointment with a family medicine practice in Anchorage that also specializes in travel medicine.  The practice was one of two recommended to us by the Anchorage health department.

I sat next to my partner in the waiting room this past week as she filled out the inevitable paperwork.  On the opposite wall a booklet caught my eye.  White, a graphic representation of the American flag, and the word “Indivisible” on the cover.  There’s a lot of flag-waving in Alaska, especially as it relates to the military, and several of the doctors in the practice have a military background.  I didn’t think much of it.

Then I saw the other pamphlets in the magazine rack.  Flyers for the Heritage Foundation.   Interesting.

Another patient was sitting directly in front of the flyers, so I didn’t investigate further.

I turned to my partner, glanced at her info sheet, saw that she was honestly answering questions about sexual orientation, religious preferences, and the importance of religion in her life (gay, none, not at all).  Uh-oh.  We might have a problem.  I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

The patient sitting by the magazine rack went back to the exam rooms.  As the door closed behind him, I noticed the flyer posted on the door:  an invitation to an adult singles’ retreat at a local megachurch.

I went to investigate the Heritage Foundation flyers, and to find out what the “Indivisible” booklets were.  The booklets (there was a stack of about 20 of them on the shelf below the rack) were: “Indivisible: Social and Economic Foundations of American Liberty–Leading Conservatives Engage Policy Perspectives)“.  Next to the white booklets was a bible.

I sat back down next to my partner, and muttered something to her about it being “pretty religious in here.”  She said, “What?” Loudly.  I went and got one of the pamphlets, and a booklet.  She leafed through them.  Found the article in “Indivisible” against equal marriage by the founder of the Ruth Institute.  Said, “I think I’d like to leave.  I don’t want to give these people my money.”

We decided to stay for the appointment, since they would probably charge us anyway if we walked out.

Eventually it was our turn.  As the nurse checked my partner’s vitals (I wonder what her blood pressure was?), I read the framed “Career Manifesto” on the wall, signed by several of the doctors.  I tried to work on lowering my own blood pressure.

While we waited for the doctor, we talked about what we wanted to do.  Did we want to say something?  Yes.  When?  First thing, we decided.

It didn’t happen first thing, since the doctor breezed in and started talking at 75 mph.  We talked about malaria prevention, yellow fever vaccines, and re-entry requirements.  Finally the doctor asked, “Do you have any other questions?”

And my partner said, “Well, yes.  I just wanted to know if you have a problem with treating me.  Because if you do, I can go somewhere else.”

The doctor looked confused.  My partner explained everything we’d seen in the waiting room, and then the doctor said that she was only working there for the summer, that she didn’t own the practice, and that she didn’t have a problem with treating my partner.

It was awkward, and only half-convincing.

We’re supposed to go back, once we get a clearer picture of what shots will be needed.   We haven’t decided what to do.  On the one hand, we don’t believe in boycotting a business because of the business owner’s religious beliefs.  But on the other hand, being there feels terrible.

Any suggestions?


4 thoughts on “Unsafe medicine: politics & religion in the waiting room

  1. Oh, my! I’ve never been to a doctor who asked such personal and irrelevant questions! I would have marked N/A in response to them and/or left. I was getting angry just reading your post. I don’t boycott businesses either because of someone’s religious beliefs, but they’re bringing them into their medical practice. Your sexual orientation and religious beliefs should have no bearing on the way that they treat you. I’m sure that I personally would never go back — and I’m straight with strong religious beliefs! Jesus (nor Buddha or any other religious leader) ever asked someone their sexual orientation before healing or helping them. The more I think about this, the madder I’m getting.

    I just heard on the radio the other day that a student at some college in Georgia is suing, because they won’t give her a counseling degree until she undergoes sensitivity training. Her religious beliefs dictate that it’s wrong to be gay, and she wrote several papers indicating that. People with that attitude shouldn’t be going into a scientific field. She should have gone to seminary and become a minister.

    • Thanks for the story about the counseling student. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. I know that in the psych field, being gay is not “wrong,” or even a disorder (they changed the DSM a while back to reflect this), and so a student who believed it was wrong to be gay would be going against that. It would be like a medical student who said, “Chickenpox is caused by chickens.”

  2. Wow, that’s a tough one. I would be sorely tempted to take my business to the other doctor. You might want to visit them first. Maybe they’ll be two branches of the same practice! I wouldn’t care about the owner’s beliefs either, but am not interested in having them shot through every aspect of the experience.

    This brings to mind the stuff about pharmacists filling scrips for birth control pills. It’s not illegal for one to refuse to do it based on their belief that birth control is wrong. But I certainly would do as much as I could (take my business elsewhere) to express my displeasure at having someone in a “helping” profession be so unhelpful.

  3. Pingback: Medicine, politics and religion–an update | Nagoonberry

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