Posted to Religious Diversity News on June 19, 2009
Source: The Los Angeles Times
It was 8 a.m., and the subject was death.
A 55-year-old man was wasting away from lungcancer and cirrhosis. His weight was plummeting and his brain was swelling. But he was in denial, refusing to discuss hospice care or consider a “do not resuscitate” order.
A bright pink vase filled with yellow mums sat near the window, belying the grim task facing the healthcare workers at Beth Israel Medical Center who had clustered around a conference table.
“This has been really sad,” said the Rev. Robert Chodo Campbell, a large man with thick brows who was wearing what appeared to be a cross between a judo outfit and hospital scrubs. He told the group that when faced with a similar case in the past, he had decided to disclose his personal battle with alcoholism to the patient — also an alcoholic — in hopes of spurring a conversation that might help ease the man’s mental anguish and prepare him for whatever lay ahead.
“Is that a good technique?” asked a doctor, sounding slightly incredulous.
A psychologist interjected. “In this case, it could have been a gift,” she said. “Psychologists don’t disclose anything. Chaplains operate under a different set of rules.”
And Chodo operates under a different set of rules than most chaplains as he spreads the spirit of Buddhism through the halls of Beth Israel, a 1,368-bed medical center in Manhattan. “If it seems appropriate in the moment and one is sure of one’s motives — the well-being of the patient — then why not?” the Zen chaplain asked.
According to the American Hospital Assn., about 68% of public hospitals have a chaplaincy program. But few have Buddhist monks, and none compares with the program at Beth Israel — where more than 20 Buddhist chaplains and chaplains-in-training offer bedside meditation, interdenominational prayers and other assistance to pregnant women, dying cancer patients and even stressed hospital workers.