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La laïcité dans les établissements de santé

Secularity in hospital is ruled by Article R1112-46 of the Public Health Code, as well as by the circular on secularity in health facilities of 2 February 2005 (see also the legal framework of chaplaincy services in hospitals on the Eurel website).

As every citizen has the right to free exercise of their religion, this possibility must also be available to those who have been hospitalized and who are limited in their ability to travel. Any public health facility must then allow to patients requesting it, free access to them of ministers of worship of their choice.

The circular on secularity in health-care establishments of 2 February 2005 comprises two main chapters. The first (“religious liberty, principles of neutrality and non-discrimination”) recalls that the principle of secularity, which must be respected in hospital, involves both equality of treatment of patients and a neutrality on behalf of hospital officials.

Patients “are thus guaranteed the free practice of their religion and the manifestation of their religious beliefs”, to the extent that requests “are compatible with the requirements of a good provision of care”. The opportunity to participate in worship, to receive the visit of the minister of worship of their choice, and to follow the precepts of their religion (e.g. meditation, food, funeral rites) must be assured. These rights shall be exercised in the respect for the freedom of others and proselytism is prohibited. Moreover, the principle of neutrality applies to hospital officials.

The second chapter deals with “free choice of practitioner and discrimination towards a public service agent”. It recalls the patient’s right to a free choice of practitioner and health facility. This discretion must, however, be exercised by the patient himself and not by a parent or close relation ; on the other hand, this requirement must be reconciled with the rules of the organization of the department and does not apply to emergency situations. It is recalled that "the free choice of the patient does not allow for the person in care to oppose a member of the care team carrying out an act of diagnosis or care for reasons related to the assumed or real religion of this member of the team."

The charter of the hospitalized person recalls these principles of respect for beliefs and convictions of persons welcomed into a health care facility, who must be able to participate in the exercise of their religion, provided that this does not affect the department’s operation or the quality of care.

Finally, the law on data protection (Informatique et libertés) of 6 January 1978 prohibits collection of personal data on philosophical or religious beliefs. This explains why information related to patients’ religious practice will be recorded in the record of care but will never be computerized, nor preserved on paper beyond the patient’s hospital stay.

The Observatoire de la laïcité (Monitoring group on secularism) has published in February 2016, the guide pratique sur la question du fait religieux dans les établissements de santé (guidelines on secularism in public health facilities).

 A video summarising these information is available on line : La laïcité dans la Fonction publique hospitalière, (secularism in public hospitals), Association nationale pour la formation permanente du personnel hospitalier (ANFH) Haute-Normandie.
 See also the bibliography of the Commission "Écoles Paramédicales" of the Ascodocpsy network : Laïcité à l’hôpital.

D 27 janvier 2017    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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