“Would you like me to send a chaplain for you to talk to? Do you want last rites performed?” the nurse asked as she gripped my hands and looked deeply into my eyes. “No …no, thank you,” was my stuttered, polite reply. Inside I was screaming, and desperately needed to talk to someone…
This was the question I was asked after the doctor informed us that our brilliant, artistic, beautiful 21-year-old son was brain dead, and that we only had one hour before they would begin removing life support. How does the non-theist reply to this question? We filled out the hospital form that requests the patient’s religious affiliation, and had marked the little box named “Other,” scribbling in “Secular Humanist” for good measure. We also politely declined the kind Christian ICU chaplain as he made his rounds, Bible firmly in hand.
Though our “religious affiliation” had been clarified through hospital protocol, never were we offered a Secular Humanist chaplain to speak with. When we had to tell my 9-year-old son that his brother was dying, the sound that spilled from his lips arose from the depths of his being; this sound was my call to action. Today I issue yours.
Our family could have benefited greatly from the compassionate counsel of a professional who shares our naturalistic worldview. The United Sates military has recently set the precedent on this issue (not without pressure) by adding “atheist/agnostic” to their religious affiliation selection checklist. Approval to add Secular Humanist chaplains to the military’s chaplain roster followed soon after. Let’s use this momentum while we can to keep this very important, very humane ball rolling.
OBJECTIVE: To form an action committee to bring Secular Humanist counselors into Missouri’s tightly held hospital chaplaincies by identifying roadblocks and developing appropriate protocols for Secular Humanists interested in providing these services. By exploring hospital chaplaincy requirements, we will create a process for Secular Humanists to obtain them, or determine an applicable equivalency. Create and establish compliance protocols to ensure the hospital staff and chaplain services continue to offer Secular Humanist chaplain counseling to patients and families who have made their preferences known. We will promote the need for Secular Humanist Chaplains, while providing our findings and resources. Attempt implementation while seeking positive resolution and a permanent secular position within the chaplaincy community.
Lofty goals? Not when you look at the larger picture and consider that statistics show non-theism is on the rise. It is my hope that this will open the door for other non-Christians of different belief systems to also have their “chaplains” be recognized and given equal status within the “private” chaplain organizations. I hope this movement will extend to hospice care and our prison system. I have hope Secular Humanist counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals will consider being openly secular, for the benefit of their fellow non-theists in crisis. Facing possible discrimination, they will be the real heroes of our shared cause. The demand for Secular Humanist counseling is there and growing, and yet we are in short supply of appropriate secular grief and crisis-related support systems.
Thank you for your time; I understand how valuable it is. As you consider the road before us remember that illness and death are an inevitable part of our lives. Only in the face of tragedy do we learn how vitally important compassion from a secular counselor truly is.
Contact: Nikki Moungo
Fax: (636) 220-6017
Written By: Nikki Moungo