Christian volunteer told to leave after complaint by a Taoist patient's son
By Yen Feng
THE Singapore General Hospital (SGH) has put up signs in all its wards to remind visitors against proselytising after a volunteer was found recently to be evangelising to a patient and was told to leave.
The signs - believed to be the first in hospital wards here - read: 'At SGH, we respect the religious and ethnic beliefs of Singaporeans. No staff, patient, visitor or volunteer is allowed to impose their religious beliefs on another.'
The move to spell out guidelines on proselytising follows an incident involving a Christian volunteer and an elderly patient who is a Taoist. The patient's son wrote to the Health Ministry last month seeking an explanation, and the ministry asked SGH to investigate the matter.
The patient's son, who would only give his surname as Chan, said the volunteer had approached him and his father on April 2, asking if they wanted to learn origami. The volunteer is a member of the Church of Praise in Lavender Street.
Mr Chan, 38, said: 'I told her no, then she started asking me about my father. That was when she told me she's a stroke patient and that the Lord saved her.' She began talking about her faith, he added.
In a statement to The Straits Times, SGH said the incident was 'isolated' and it has asked the volunteer to leave. It added that all volunteers are expected not to impose their religious views on anyone. 'Any volunteer who breaches this code of conduct will be asked to discontinue their involvement with the hospital,' it said.
When contacted, the Church of Praise described the incident as a misunderstanding. It said the church member had been volunteering at SGH for six years.
Pastor Pang Yan Cher said the church may now cease its activities at SGH. 'We would not want to put SGH to further inconvenience, as well as unwittingly affecting adversely the delicate balance of the different religions we have been working so hard to achieve in our country thus far,' she said.
For Mr Chan, whose father is still receiving treatment at SGH, the incident left him upset and he hoped public hospitals would not 'allow religious evangelists to harass people during difficult times in their lives'.
Three other public hospitals - Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), National University Hospital (NUH) and Alexandra Hospital - said they too do not allow any kind of religious proselytising.
There is no hard data on how widespread the practice is: The hospitals either did not comment on how many cases are reported, or said they were rare.
But social workers and health-care professionals told ST it happens often enough, at least anecdotally, to prompt hospitals to have strict guidelines to prohibit any form of proselytising.
'It's hard to say no when you're ill and somebody says they want to pray for you to get better,' said Ms Jenny Teo, 46, a counseller with Care Spring Community Services. 'That's how it begins - the religious talk.'
At NUH, patients can ask for spiritual counselling, but neither staff nor volunteers are allowed to proselytise.
Over at TTSH, volunteers get a list of dos and don'ts which include 'prohibiting the preaching and sharing of religious beliefs', a hospital spokesman said.
Religious organisations and their affiliated groups, on their part, said their guiding principle is this: Patients' needs come first. Sultan Mosque's manager, Ustaz Khair Rahmat, said even though prayers play a role in their hospital visits, 'it is more important to give the patients a listening ear... regardless of race and religion.'
Mr Herman Lim, coordinator for First Hands, a programme run by City Harvest Community Services Association (CHCSA), said any reference to Christianity happens only when the patient requests it and with the approval of the social worker or the staff nurse. CHCSA, which is affiliated to City Harvest Church, works mainly with the terminally ill at TTSH.
Mr Paul Tobin, president of the Humanist Society (Singapore), called the move by SGH to put up the signs 'a positive step in the right direction'.
He said: 'To proselytise to a patient, who is at a moment of trauma and stress, is an unacceptable exploitation of that patient's emotional vulnerability.
'This is also an intrusion into the patient's right to privacy.'
[Stupid Christians at it again.]