Should Bibles be available in all patients' rooms?

Minister leaves hospital after objecting

A chaplain who recently resigned from her post at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, MD, said her resignation was requested by the hospital after she tried to end a policy permitting The Gideons missionary organization to deliver Bibles to all hospital patients.

Kay Myers, PhD, a Presbyterian minister who headed the hospital's chaplaincy program, told the Salisbury Daily Times that she was concerned not only with keeping the chaplaincy non-sectarian (the Bibles contained only the New Testament), but also feared that allowing The Gideons access to patients violated privacy regulations set out by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Myers told local media that she objected to one religion — in this case, Christianity — receiving preferential treatment over other religions. When she proposed removing Bibles from rooms and making all religious texts available upon request, she was asked for her resignation, Myers says.

A spokesman for Peninsula Regional Medical Center said the hospital does not comment on personnel issues.

J. Vincent Guss Jr., MDiv, a pastoral care and bioethics consultant in Alexandria, VA, and advocacy commissioner for the Association of Professional Chaplains, says he agrees in principle with Myers that all faith groups should be treated with parity, and that making one religion's sacred text readily available could be interpreted as promoting one faith over another.

"However, I believe that one can be too legalistic in implementation of that general principle, especially if other religions' sacred texts are also available upon request, as they should be," says Guss.

He adds that "there are other, more important ethical concerns where the spiritual dimensions of health care are not being adequately addressed by hospitals and health care practices for people of all — or no — faith groups."

Guss recounts that at a hospital where he directed the pastoral care program until recently, he initiated a program where Gideons-provided Bibles would be placed in patients' rooms, but he told The Gideons that the hospital would only accept Bibles that included both Old and New Testaments, thus including texts sacred to both Jews and Christians.

"It would be impractical to try to stock each patient's nightstand with every sacred text of every religion. Having Bibles readily available, especially when provided by an outside group as a gift instead of the secular hospital itself and when there is a note attached indicating other religions' sacred texts are available through the hospital chaplain, can add to the healing environment hospitals should create."