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Angels in Norway and Demons in America

14 % of physicians reported that their religious beliefs justify withholding from their patients information about of perfectly legal procedures, such as abortion in the case of failed contraception.
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Norway's Princess Märtha Louise is talking to angels. 54 % of American physicians want their patients to do the same.

Märtha Louise is the daughter of King Harald V and Queen Sonja, and the older sister of Crown Prince Haakon. In a recent interview, she explained how she learned to communicate with horses and talk to angels.

"Some feel the angels, others see them. Everyone experiences them from their own standpoint. For me, they are beings of light, like a feeling of a powerful presence, a strong sense of love," she said.

To spread the news, she recently opened an institute in Oslo, offering courses to help people to get in touch with "the angels and the divine Universe". According to her website , these insights could be yours if you enroll for a fee of US$2200 per semester. The classes, which started last week, are already sold out.

"I am very happy that I don't live a few hundred years ago, because then I would have been burned at the stake a long time ago," the Princess stated.

The Norwegian Princess doesn't live a hundred years ago, and she is not the only one invoking her title to promote personal beliefs. According to a recent American survey on Physicians' Observations and Interpretations of the Influence of Religion and Spirituality on Health, 54 % of American doctors indicate that they believe God or a higher supernatural force influences the condition of their patients.

Moreover, 14 % of the same physicians reported that their personal religious beliefs justify withholding from their patients information about the existence of perfectly legal procedures, inter alia abortion in the case of failed contraception.

If theses ideas translate into their practices, more than 14 % patients or more than 40 million people in this country may be "cared for" by physicians who do not believe they are obliged to inform their patients of available treatments they consider objectionable, including vaccines (such as those for hepatatis, polio and rabies) derived from aborted fetal tissue.

In a recent editorial in the magazine Psychosomatic Medicine, Professor Richard P. Sloan at the Behavioural Science Program of Columbia University states that in addition to influencing the availability of medical procedures, such supernatural beliefs intruding into professional practices threatens to violate the norms of patient autonomy by manipulative or even coercive means.

He refers to a report by the Christian Medical and Dental Association, a professional society half as large as the American College of Cardiology, which recently published a handbook instructing physicians on how to use their practices to evangelize.

The Princess of Norway and Professor Sloan's editorial resonate a collection of essays by social critic Wendy Kaminer called "Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety", published in 2000.

Here, the author grapples with the various manifestations of what she calls "irrationalism", or believing in something without material proof. She discusses inter alia the New Age spiritualism of Deepak Chopra and The Celestine Prophecy, contemporary angel lore and accounts of alien abduction to the recovered memory movement, from school vouchers to the "junk science" basis for the "war on drugs".

Kaminer is not criticizing individual beliefs. Rather, she is concerned with the possible public consequence of such beliefs, especially when held by a dominant or influential group or individual in society. In her view, this poses important and necessary questions about what it means to live in a democracy based on justice and reason.

What would happen otherwise?

The Des Moines Register recently reported that an Iowa City VA Hospital doctor attempted to convert a Jewish veteran to Christianity during several hospitalizations over a period of two years, as per advice from the Christian Medical and Dental Association. And in 2004, a Colorado orthopedic surgeon insisted that all of his patients pray with him while they were "gowned and supine on the gurney, ready to be wheeled into surgery".

If such individuals are allowed to continue with their practices, be they hereditary or professional, I would recommend them to renounce their titles now.

Because the world cannot afford to follow anymore misguided "visionaries of faith".