Ayesha Ahmad: Hearing Voices; Illusions and delusions as God enters the doctor-patient dialogue

As medicine evolves, or rather reveals, nuances that speak of an inherent interdisciplinary nature, how are we to recognise and become accustomed with voices other than the language of textbooks; the sounds of monitors and machines; and the neutral tone of the doctor to patient dialogue?

What happens when the patient hears God?

The voice of the patient, in contemporary medical practice, is called to the forefront during medical decision-making; voices are heard as an expression of autonomy, or as bioethicist Tristram Engelhardt puts it, an ‘expression of permission’.

Between the ‘medical’ and the ‘metaphysical’ there is a disjoint that clearly sets out binary oppositions between the doctor and the (patient’s) God.

On the one hand, references are made to clinical descriptions pertaining to the physical condition of the human body – history, diagnosis, and prognosis.

In parallel, on the other hand, a person may be in dialogue with their (preferred) God; receiving guidance and fulfilment for the trajectory of their life, and determining their perceptions for dignity, for integrity, for strength, for transcending beyond an idolised life unto an iconic death.

These are important considerations to take into account because as philosopher Jeff McMahan (2002) has pointed out, our metaphysical status is ‘shrouded in darkness’ despite the illumination of the human body as it is presented on the hospital bed.

Thus, we will increasingly find it difficult to make decisions when faced with the defining moments of our ‘cultural body’; that which is rooted in the prayers our families gave for our existence – our boundaries for defining births and, ultimately, the death, are blurring due to the scientific and technological innovation that provides life sustaining treatment.

We become tempted to(wards) infiniteness instead of remembering we are in finiteness.

Thus, we may ask, is a humane medicine becoming compromised by the ‘scientific’ human in the hospital bed; what is the human body when it is de-tached from a relationship the person may have with God?

What remains unheard?

It is in this silence we can find a narrative, and we must seek to discover it.