Today I had to pre-register at a new medical facility for some tests. No big deal, I thought. They would ask for insurance information and we’d be finished. But, that was not what happened. The employee of the doctor’s office asked for my religion. When I mentioned that it would most likely be categorized as “other,” she did not believe me, and proceeded to name off a long list of religions. In addition to “none” (which obviously fits into its own category), there were only two non-Christian choices: Buddhism and “other.” I’m well-versed in idiosyncratic and unconventional Christian denominations, but she listed Christian branches unknown to me. However, she did not list Judaism or Islam or any of the many other non-Christian religions. How could Judaism or Islam be missing? How can a major medical provider in the US not realize those who live here practice a range of non-Christian religions?
Sure, this state is firmly seated on the edge of the Midwest, but just driving down the street proves that followers of other religions live here. Let me explain that a bit. There are numerous mosques, Muslim prayer buildings, and even a few private Islamic academies. There is a stable Jewish population. In addition to specialized social service organizations, Jewish charter schools are scattered throughout the region. In fact, one local Jewish synagogue has to offer tickets for reserved seating during the holidays. Within a short drive, there is a Gurdwara (Sikh religious building) supported by a healthy Sikh population. Just up the road from that, a significant Hindu temple (surrounded by 32 landscaped acres) provides a busy schedule of events. In addition, at least two Krishna devotee groups function in the area. Since I’ve made my point, I won’t bore you by listing the variety of groups that gather for Neo-Pagan, American indigenous, African traditional religions, and other spiritual celebrations in the area (assuming I could remember all of them).
Not only was I stymied by her inadequate list of religions but also by the question itself. So I asked her why she wanted to know my religion. She responded, “Some patients like to know the priest can bring communion if they require it.” (I assumed that she meant in the case of the development of an emergency situation). I responded that I was an “other,” just as I had previously stated. Rather than educate her about the varied religious communities, I decided to politely hang up.
However, in light of the crazy news stories about medical providers refusing treatment to people they classify as “outsiders” or “sinners,” I have a few concerns. In addition, I am troubled about the assumptions they might make in the areas usually listed in a document such as a Living Will or Advanced Directive. Do I draft a legal document to clarify my expectations about medical treatment as it might be affected by their religious assumptions and insist they add to my file? Perhaps I was too honest. Should I ignore the entire topic and hope that I won’t get inferior treatment because I admitted to a belief in “other?” What do you think?