Paganism now an option on Irish hospital admittance forms

Terence P Ward —  June 22, 2016 — 15 Comments

IRELAND — Pagans will no longer get listed as “other” or “no religion” when they are admitted to Irish hospitals. The change came thanks to an agreement worked out by officials of Health Services Executive (HSE), who administers 50 national acute care facilities. Leaders of the advocacy group Pagan Life Rites announced June 9 that it had successfully lobbied for the change, which is expected to be completely rolled out in the coming weeks.

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rights campaign]

[Graphic from Pagan Life Rites’ April campaign]

Pagan Life Rites co-founder Rev. Kristian Märkus told The Wild Hunt that the group started receiving reports from some of their nearly 500 members, noting an inability to record their religion as Pagan during the hospital admittance process. Märkus provided this quote, which recounts one individual’s experience.

I was asked my religion. I replied, “Pagan,” and the secretary said, “Oh, so no religion then!” I said nicely, “No, but I’m guessing you don’t have Wiccan or Druid or anything like that on your drop down,” and she went, “Oh,” and typed in “Pagan” and we carried on. It is important that we counter the notion that “Pagan” means “godless.”

In other cases, patients accepted the “other” designation without comment. According to the group’s press release, “Even when registered as ‘Pagan’ on arrival staff had twice changed the religious identity to ‘Christian/Catholic’ on the physical version of one patient’s medical records.”

It was an opportune time to raise this issue, as Märkus explained. “Pagan Life Rites received more complaints about this issue on foot of our social media campaign in the lead up to the Irish National Census of May, 2016. Through this campaign we urged community members to unite by stating ‘Pagan’ in the box provided for the ‘other’ option on the question of religious identity on the census form.”

While the overall effort to raise awareness provided the needed momentum, other important groundwork had been laid for this request in 2009, when HSE published its intercultural guide. It included an entire section on Pagan religions, laying out the value of patients being properly categorized, to wit:

Traditional religions tend to be rich in symbolism, ritual and ceremony. Life in general and major events, such as birth, critical illness and death are normally mediated with specific rituals and ceremonies. Many followers have a spiritual teacher/adviser or a personal contact to assist them in their personal practices.

All it took, according to Märkus, was to make clear that miscategorizing patients was in conflict with the organization’s stated ethos. “We are delighted that the Health Services Executive has agreed to accommodate the various categories,” he said. In addition to simply declaring oneself Pagan, Irish patients may select a subcategory of Wicca, Shamanism, Heathenry, or Druidry; these are the four main paths which which Irish Pagans tend to identify, he explained.

Another detail that may have contributed to this accomplishment is that HSE is a publicly-funded organization in a country with what Märkus calls “evolving equality legislation.” That’s not to say it was easy, however, and he added, “Nonetheless, one cannot discount bureaucratic hurdles.”

The experience of Pagan Life Rites has shown that an understanding of state mechanisms, an openness to engaging positively with public servants and a willingness to persevere with a potentially long process of consultation have proven crucial.

These factors served Pagan Life Rites well in the consultation process with the Health Services Executive, as they did in the process whereby twelve of our clergy members became legal solemnisers of marriage, through the General Register Office, a wonderful development which we were privileged to announce just before Valentine’s Day, 2016.

Outside of the small Pagan community, the HSE decision appears to be a non-event in this largely Catholic nation. Märkus is aware of no news coverage of this milestone, which is exactly what happened when the marriage credentials were achieved earlier this year. The reverend said that Pagans vary in how comfortable they are being open about their religion, and the confusion with atheism is not at all uncommon.

Overall, the problems of Irish Pagans are ones of exclusion, rather than outright discrimination.As Märkus explained,

One problematic area relates to schooling, as for historical reasons, the Irish educational system is largely dependent on religious patronage of its school network. Almost 95% of schools are state-aided parish schools run by religious-based boards of management. One common feature of enrolment policy in primary (elementary) schools is the priority given to children who have been baptised. These concerns are a key feature in public discourse around the desire for complete separation of church and state.

On the other hand, a marriage equality referendum was passed last year, and there is a general sense that Catholic influence on public policy is beginning to wane. Still, where religion is expected to have a strong part to play — including in hospitals, prisons, and at the points of birth and death — the people paid to do the work are invariably of that faith.

Pagan Life Rites has a chaplaincy training program in development, and is already making clergy available for pastoral support on a voluntary basis. There will likely be a time when an Irish Pagan doesn’t have difficulty declaring that religious preference for any number of reasons, but for now, they can at least rest assured that they will be considered Pagan when they enter a hospital.

Terence P Ward

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Terence P Ward is a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and convinced Friend who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife, five cats, and multiple household shrines.
  • Govannon Thunorwulf

    In many cases, we don’t receive that same recognition in the USA. Were the separation of church and state are to be the foundations of society.

  • Tauri1

    I’ve been in the hospital twice in the last year. At both admittances there was no question about what my “faith” was. Granted, this was a public and not a private or religious hospital, nevertheless… Personally I don’t think that hospitals, whether private, public or religious, have any business knowing what your faith is, or whether you even have a faith. If you’re connected to your faith community, then you can let someone there know that you’ve entered the hospital and can ask for faith counseling if you feel you need it. If you’re solitary, like me, then what difference would it make to have someone of your faith visit you? You’re not connected to that community anyhow.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Some people spend their last days in a hospital. To prepare for that possibility, they want to know if they should call a priest, a rabbi, an imam or whatever to your bedside. They don’t want this kind of internal conversation:”Room 42 isn’t going to make it.” “OK, find out what their religion is.”They ask for the information up front.

      • Also good for those post-surgery folks, who were unconscious when they arrived, where they’re kept in a coma to better heal, especially when no family member has (yet) showed up.

  • Polytheist

    The local Catholic hospital has never asked. Our local public one does anytime I go in to register. I have none listed right now. There is not pagan community for them to call on if I come in unconscious anyway.

    • Dominican, a Catholic Hospital, asked when I went in for the birth of my son.

  • Alma Mercer

    Just like the movement where we now have headstones , I think this should be a option everywhere …. good article .

  • zormpas

    I was in the hospital a few years back, answered “Pagan” to this question (verbally). Was asked two more times at various points as apparently the computer program didn’t have an “other” – much less “Pagan” option and I guess it remained blank.

    Hospitals like to know this kind of thing as things can “go south” real fast and it can help providers to know. My mother baptized more than one dying baby in her day because she knew the mother’s faith.

  • No matter the religiosity of the hospital involved, Other is not an option. For Pagans/Heathens/Polytheists, the safest response seems to be Unitarian. Thank Omaha the Cat Dancer’s Shelley for that.

    Recently had a visit to the local non-religious hospital–is spite of being called Good Samaritan–in the second waiting room, where a pastor came in, announced himself, and *asked* if anyone cared for prayers or counselling. When he asked me specifically, my husband, who holds clergy credentials, being next to me, I responded, “No, thank you, my priest is right here”.

  • I suppose the Orthodox refers to Eastern/Russian Christianity. I know for certain there are Jews in Ireland! At least one of them, a singer/songwriter/instrumentalist responsible for bringing the bouzouki into British Isles folk music, lives there.

  • Lady Demelza

    I don’t reveal my religion upon hospital admittance, ever since I was told ‘that’s not a real religion’ by a doctor, and subsequently diagnosed as psychotic and given anti-psychotic medication.

  • Crescent Reed

    My understanding of the question is so onsite/hospital-provided chaplains can offer blessings (by request) and last rights (before surgery, etc.). Great to have pagan on the drop down. Recognition is SO good. However, does that now mean Irish hospitals will have pagan officiants on staff/on call now?