A Boston Children’s Hospital psychiatrist who became convinced his 16-year-old patient suffered from “evil spirits” and appointed himself as her spiritual mentor has been barred from practicing medicine, according to the state Board of Registration in Medicine.
Raymond W. Kam gave the girl a cross to wear in exchange for a different, undisclosed religious symbol she had on; he also took her to church with him and let her stay at his home, board investigators said in documents filed in the case. At one point, she told him that her mother pushed her down the stairs and tried to asphyxiate her, and he allegedly failed to report her charges to the Department of Children and Families as required by state law.
The board voted Wednesday to suspend Kam’s license indefinitely, saying his conduct called into question his “competence to practice medicine.”
If the ‘conscience clause’ allows doctors to tailor their medical practice to their own religion– regardless of their patient’s beliefs; if a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription for birth control– regardless of the woman and her doctor; then why is Dr. Kam being disciplined?
‘Faith’ is used as an explanation for all kinds of impositions on the rights of others. Best of all, ‘faith’ is non-specific. We all assume, of course, that Faith=Christianity. And Dr.Kam is probably a very devout Christian.
So will he be the next martyr to godless faithlessness? There might be a place on the speaking circuit for him.
It’s not that spirituality is off limits for discussion, but there’s a difference between supporting a patient’s rights to her spiritual beliefs vs making a convert of a vulnerable teenager. And telling someone that their psychiatric troubles are coming from malevolent spirits does not sound like the path to mental health. Taking your patient home with you is generally considered to be a bad idea.
But if standards of medical care count for less than the provider’s conscience, then what did Dr.Kam do wrong?
And just a Pagan opinion, I’d bet money the girl was wearing a Pentagram, and once the doctor saw that he lost his professional judgment and went into religious overdrive. More often than not we are blind to our own bias. A humbling thought.
I have my own issues with this. In the ’70’s I belonged to a Catholic Charismatic group that practiced speaking in tongues, and later moved on to exorcism. This was carried out by some of the priests in the group, but quickly became a kind of ‘do it yourself’ home remedy that anyone might try, when the spirit moved them.
At the same time, we had people who struggled with drug addiction. We had homosexual men and women who tried to reconcile the Church’s condemnation with their own sense of self and need for love. We had at least one guy who was hearing voices and wandered muttering to himself. It was a very mixed group in a high state of emotion.
Exorcism gave a temporary relief to unbearable internal stress, but didn’t have much effect in the long term. I think we were putting people at risk of being pushed into a psychotic break, and it was just luck that we didn’t do more harm. The man who was hearing voices was treated to ‘Greyhound therapy’, but soon hitchhiked back–eventually to find another group to hang out with.
I think that I might be on familiar ground if I ever went to Dr. Kam’s church. I also think that telling a person in emotional pain that their suffering comes from something outside themselves–something malevolent that is targeting them–is a terrible disservice. It’s a way to control someone, or just to mess with them– like telling a little kid that there really is a monster under their bed. Or telling someone that they have a disease and you have the cure.
Religion can be a force for good, but like any power it can be used to harm. Politicians have been blurring the boundaries for a long time. Doctors have more accountability, and that’s a good thing.