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Interfaith Inform: February 9, 2021
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Ana Iltis, Ph.D.
Ryan Nash, M.D.
Interfaith Insight
Doug Kindschi
Director, Kaufman Interfaith Institute
Interfaith opportunities and challenges in the health community

As our community and nation become more diverse, we all have the opportunity to learn and affirm the value of our expanded worldview.  For many of us it was international travel that introduced us to this bigger world. Sponsoring international students can also be an enriching experience of bringing the wider world into our own homes. Even look at our eating habits. I remember many decades ago when I had my first taste of that “new” food called pizza.  Consider the rich variety of cuisine that we now take for granted. Yes, diversity brings many wonderful opportunities for learning and developing new friends and relationships.

Diversity can also bring challenges as different beliefs present decisions that as a society we didn’t previously have to face. Health care is one arena where such issues frequently emerge. It is a critical field where important contributions come from increasing diversity.  Immigrants and foreign-born professionals play a vital role in the health care community. They also represent much of the religious diversity as well.

For example, in Michigan, with less than a 3% Muslim population, 15% of the medical doctors in the state are Muslim. Furthermore, they have also made many vital contributions to science and the practice of medicine. Nationally, over one-quarter of the medical doctors are foreign trained and in certain areas like geriatrics, they comprise more than 50% of the field. Immigrant doctors are also more likely to serve in areas of greater poverty. Recent studies have shown that over 20 million Americans live in areas where over half of the doctors are foreign trained. 

It is clear that immigrants and foreign-trained doctors fill important health care needs in many underprivileged areas of our country. They contribute not only to our increased diversity but in vital ways contribute to our overall health system.

This is also true of the broader health team with increased diversity among nurses contributing in major ways to hospitals and long-term care facilities. Immigrants account for nearly one-quarter of the work force in long-term care facilities and perhaps even more in individual care arenas. Immigration is critical to the health and care of the increasing numbers of elderly as well as disabled Americans.

Diversity in these areas also brings, in addition to tangible contributions, an opportunity to learn about the rich variety of cultures in our world.  Religious diversity also broadens our appreciation of the many expressions of spirituality.  As we interact, we have the opportunity to go deeper in our own religious faith and challenge some of our simplistic assumptions.

Additionally, religious pluralism in the health fields gives us an expanded understanding of differing values and practices that can bring challenges as well. The West Michigan Medical Ethics Conference coming up later this month explores some of these issues as it addresses the theme, “Waiting for a Miracle: The Role of Religion in a Patient’s Decision Making.”

One of the issues deals with end-of-life concerns, a topic explored the past two weeks in the Ethics & Religion column that appears in the Religion section of The Grand Rapids Press. The organizer of that column, Rabbi David Krishef, is also a member of the interfaith panel for the conference.  The panel will also include persons from the Muslim and Hindu faiths as well as Christian ministers, both Catholic and Protestant. These different faith traditions will help us learn the various perspectives and be enriched.  

Many other topics will be explored, from how dietary restrictions can be accommodated to the use of vaccines and the appropriate use of medications to relieve suffering. Different traditions will bring perspectives that will be helpful to health care workers as well as to the rest of us who might be dealing with similar challenges. These are ethical issues that also become practical in the health care setting. The afternoon session will include presentations from philosophical/ethics professionals and from those working in hospitals in the area of spiritual care.       

The evening DeVos Medical Ethics Colloquy will address the theme, “The Role of Religion in Health Care.”  We will hear from two nationally respected directors of university bioethics centers.

Ana Iltis, Ph.D. is a professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  She is the president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and serves editorial roles in both The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and the Annals of Bioethics book series. 

Ryan Nash, M.D. is the director of the Ohio State University Center for Bioethics. He has a faculty appointment in the Department of Internal Medicine with ongoing clinical work in the Department of Palliative Medicine. He serves on the editorial boards of The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and Christian Bioethics.   Dr. Nash is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in internal medicine and in hospice and palliative medicine.

The conference and colloquy are organized by the Vice Provost Office for Health at Grand Valley State University.  The Kaufman Interfaith Institute is pleased to collaborate with them as a part of our 2021 – Year of Interfaith Healing. More information about this is also available on our website. 

You are welcome to join doctors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals as well as members of the community for these important learning events. Community participation is free, but registration is required.  Further information and registration link is available at our website. We hope you will be able to join us.


Coming Soon:

Film Discussion: Patch Adams, 7-8:30 p.m. Feb 15 Register Here 

West Michigan Medical Ethics Conference, “Waiting for a Miracle: The Role of Religion in a Patient's Decision-Making,” 2-5 p.m. Feb. 22

DeVos Medical Ethics Colloquy, “The Role of Religion in Health Care,” 6-8 p.m. Feb. 22

These weekly Insights are published in the Grand Rapids Press'  Religion section every Thursday.

For an archive of previous articles,
click here.