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What would you do?: Responses

Humanists UK's Simon O'Donoghue offers a response to possible scenarios pastoral carers might face in hospitals or prisons

Below Director of Humanist Care Simon O’Donoghue provides his responses to the scenarios described in the previous step.

  1. After sitting for 30 minutes and developing a good rapport with a patient on a hospital ward, they ask you to pray for them. What would your response be?

    This is a matter of personal integrity and what the caregiver feels comfortable doing. As an organisation we wouldn’t force any of our members to respond to a request of this nature in a particular way. Honesty is paramount here. We are in the business of providing person centred care and if a patient still wanted a prayer even after explaining that we are non-religious, then it is perfectly understandable to provide one. Alternatively, pastoral carers may carry with them some secular words of comfort or offer to be with them while they pray or alternatively seek an appropriate chaplain.

  2. Whilst volunteering in a hospital, a patient tells you that they have determined to arrange an assisted death in Switzerland in the next few weeks. What would your response be?

    There might be a need here to break confidentiality as the patient has articulated a desire to harm themselves. However, this may be treated as an exceptional circumstance and one where the response is managed by professional judgement. The pastoral carer should never advise on the course of action to be taken but may want to encourage the patient to consider why they feel they want to take that particular course of action.

  3. Whilst supporting someone in a prison, they become visibly upset and begin to cry. You feel incredibly sorry for the person and believe a hug would help him deal with the extreme emotions he is experiencing. What would you do?

    The rules of the prison state that physical contact can be no more than a handshake. Physical contact could be misinterpreted or puts people at risk of being compromised. There is no gray area.

  4. Whilst supporting someone in hospital, she tells you she wants a non-religious funeral but her family are committed Christians and want her to have a Christian service. She asks you to try to arrange a non-religious funeral for her. What would you do?

    In this situation it would be best to explore the thoughts, feelings, and emotions with the patient and support them in addressing the issue with the family themselves. You should not put yourself at risk and leave yourself open to accusations of manipulation by taking forward this request.

© Humanists UK
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Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

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