Modern Medicine

Losing Religion from Health Care

When medical matters and matters of faith collide.

By Angela Cabotaje September 6, 2022

Picture just about any Marvel movie. There’s violence, even death. “But if Scarlett Johansson showed a boob, it’d be R-rated,” notes Angela Day, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sex therapy. That’s how you know American society is dictated by religious ideals, she says, even if it professes otherwise.

From the recent overturn of Roe to those SCOTUS-approved prayers at the 50-yard line, the divide between church and state has never been more transparent. And in the medical realm, when life-saving decisions and mental well-being can be dictated by faith, it’s hard for patients to buck years of belief in an instant.

That tension appears in tangible ways, even thousands of miles from the Bible Belt, in uber liberal Seattle. Two major health systems here, Providence Swedish and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, have religious affiliations that limit the type of services their doctors can provide—namely elective abortions and physician-assisted death, both legal in Washington.

Day, who counsels patients at her Columbia City practice, A Day in Therapy, sees this manifest in her patients’ struggles with everything from their bodies and sexuality to their identities and relationships. About 30 percent of her patients are religious or had religious upbringings. “Your religion may say abortion is wrong, life begins at conception, and to get rid of that is murder. On the other hand, you may feel like if you don’t want to be pregnant, you shouldn’t be.” 

Day herself grew up a Jehovah’s Witness (she has since left the faith) and says her personal experience helps her better relate to those who are conflicted, whose happiness might hinge on interpretations of a book written centuries ago. “I can pull different stories from the Bible to show like, Hey, this is why this is OK.” 

She’s careful, she notes, to keep her opinion out of it, choosing instead to use her knowledge to point out the ramifications of various belief systems and help her patients come to acceptance. But through it all, Day hopes everyone can simply learn to come as they are. 

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