Book Reviews

Books where faith, religion, and medicine collide

Personal beliefs can be tricky for doctors and patients alike. Today I am looking at books that deal with this–both in fiction and in non-fiction.


[Fiction] When is a child an adult? At age 17 and some months? On the 18th birthday? Who decides when a child this age must have medical treatment? Does this child “believe” or has he been taught to believe and mouth that beliefs of his parents? Jehovah’s Witness parents, their soon-to-be-legally-of-age son, a life-long-higher-achiever of a judge and British law all collide in this excellent story of maturity and how it is defined. Add to this an act of indecent selfishness by an otherwise beloved and decent husband of many years and you have a very compelling novel. I found Fiona ridiculously guilt ridden over one stupid, impulsive act that would never have troubled anyone outside the pages of a novel. Did she cross a line? Yes, but not in the way she thought. She  did not stay detached and on her high bench as judge. When that occurred she should have recused herself and had the case completed by another judge. In spite of this I do recommend it very highly. It IS very compelling reading and as more and more of the religious right divorce themselves from contemporary “chemical” medicine and seek cures with herbs and so-called “essential oils” we will hear more of this sort of case. The Children Act by Ian McEwan. See who I’d cast in the movie here. (This review was originally published on my old blog on January 9, 2015). Here, too, is an interview with McEwan on the topic of Law Versus Religious Belief.



[Nonfiction] Since leaving the life of a nun, Karen Armstrong has written extensively about religion. In her own life she has endured the intersection of corporate religion (not faith) intersects with medicine. As a nun she went un-diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and suffered from anorexia. She has identified anorexia as a problem for many nuns, which I found fascinating. Her books are interesting as they detail her time of preparation to take her vows as well as her transition from nun back to lay person and scholar.  Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong.





[Nonfiction] I’ve written a fuller review here, but this account of the actions of the staff of Memorial hospital in New Orleans during the nightmare that was hurricane Katrina shows how the staff tried to act in accord with established medical ethics and within the framework of their own personal religious and ethic beliefs. This is one of the most compelling nonfiction books to come out in recent years. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.






[Nonfiction] Young parents, overjoyed with their new daughter, learned that she had only a fraction of a brain. In fact, light could be seen thru the skin of her head. This sounds like a possible Wrongful Birth law suit, but Brian and Alsie Kelley, made daughter Stasia’s short life as meaningful and joyous as possible. The chose to live the spirit of all children being made in God’s image as they tended her varied and often overhelming needs. I have read this book 3 or 4 times and always find encouragement in it. (I also cry every time).  I find the Amazon description a bit odd, so trust me–its worth the read. Stasia’s Gift. It’s probably out-of-print now, but it is available used.


Can you add any titles to this list? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about more such books. Fiction or non-fiction are both fascinating.

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