Religion in Organized Medicine: The AMA's Committee and Department of Medicine and Religion, 1961-1974.
The history commonly told of the relationship between modern medicine and religion is one of steady, even inevitable, separation rooted in the Enlightenment. The divorce between medicine and religion, it is thought, had become nearly total before a recent surge of interest in the spiritual and religious dimensions of health care. This narrative, however, misjudges a persistent sense of spiritual need in illness that medical practice, even today, is unable to entirely ignore. Relying on primary sources, we recount here the little known story of the rise and fall of the Committee on Medicine and Religion and the Department of Medicine and Religion at the American Medical Association between 1961 and 1974. Arising in a context of a widely perceived dehumanization of care and the emergence of new ethical dilemmas at the bedside--concerns with significant parallels today--the initiative garnered striking physician enthusiasm and achieved dramatic successes nationally before coming to a puzzling end in 1972. We argue that its demise was linked to the AMA's contentious internal debate on abortion, and conclude with a note of caution regarding the status of normative concerns in medicine's ongoing efforts to address the spiritual and religious dimensions of its practices.
Kim, D; Curlin, F; Wolenberg, K; Sulmasy, D
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