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Can a fundamentalist christian be a good doctor for Gays?
Aug 18, 1998

I have recently discovered that my HIV doctor (i have seen for the last 7+ years attends a fundamentalist evangelical church and he recommended a "gay support group the church has." I told him, that the group was anti-gay. It is a "Change Ministry," associated with Homosexuals Annonymous. He acted surprised but my friends are skeptical. He disagreed with any group that attempts to change gay people and said he would not recommend the group to anyone else. I do not want to have to change doctor's because he is the best in the area and one of the best HIV specialist in the world. Yet I am concerned about whether or not he is being upfront with me. Is it possible that he could be so naive that he would not recognize a group which states: their purpose is "to help men struggling with homosexuality" is a destructive group for gay people???

How should I handle this... I feel I will always have suspicions as long as he attends this church? Should this be a concern for me???

Sincerely, jerry

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Dear Jerry,

You are certainly in the midst of a profound dilemma. While I do not think that a person's conservative religious beliefs need disqualify them from being a good doctor to gay people, it does raise some potnetially troubling doubts. If the "support group" at his church advertises itself as only to offer "to help men struggling with homosexuality" I suppose that it is possible that he may not have thought that this is a group to help change a person's sexuality. But this would definitely be a red flag for me. You are certainly right that this is a destructive group. I certainly understand and support your concerns. I am concerned about why did he even suggest this group? Did you ever share with him feelings about being gay? This information about him would certainly affect my levels of trust for him. How do you know that he is one of the best HIV doctors in the area you live and in the world? Has he demonstrated a consistently high level of respect for you if you arrived at his office with your partner? There is a lot to evaluate.

If you have been satisfied with the quality of care he has been providing to you and believe that he is completely up to date and informed about all the latest, fast changing treatment issues in HIV care, then you may want to stay with him. But I would suggest sitting down and airing all of your concerns with him. See how he reacts. That may help you decide whether or not to remain as his patient.

While having the information that he is a fundamentalist Christian does not necessarily mean that he can not be an excellent doctor for you, it should raise questions that you need to address directly through talking with him. Part of my concerns also deal with his ability to provide information about sexual transmission issues as well as end of life care. What I mean by this is that many people with HIV want to know that if it ever becomes clear that they no longer have a reasonably good quality of life that they can count on their doctor not to prolong their suffering and perhaps even to provide the means for ending their lives. These are not options that a fundamentalist physician of any religious persuasion would be comfortable doing.

So you have a lot to think about and talk about with him before making your decision.

Good luck and let me know how this plays out.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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