A HOSPITAL chaplain from Worcestershire has called comments by a bestselling author that religion should play no part in medical decision-making “a little frightening”.

Speaking at the Oxford Literary Festival this week, Atonement writer Ian McEwan criticised parents who refused treatment for their children on religious grounds.

But Worcestershire Royal Hospital chaplain Rev David Southall said he felt the writer’s opinions were “somewhat overstated”.

Speaking about his forthcoming novella The Children’s Act – the story of a Family Court judge forced to make a decision on the future of conjoined twins whose Catholic parents refuse to allow them to be separated – the Booker Prize-winning writer said: "I found generally that religion was distinctly unhelpful in making reasonable judgments.

“In the whole, the secular mind seems far superior in making reasonable judgments.”

But Rev Southall said he did not entirely agree with the author’s opinions.

“I think he perhaps needs to take the historical long view on the compassionate and caring traditions which faith groups have embedded in society over centuries,” he said.

“I note that he is talking about situations at the edge of people’s common experience – the illness of a child, the abuses and neglects which are commonplace and the perceived selfishness of modern parents.

“It seems that he takes exception to religious doctrine imposing practices which to him seem to be ‘inhumane’ and many, including myself, might find some resonances in what he has said.”

Rev Southall said it was more important to understand the contexts in which people facing tragedies make rational decisions, saying: “Isn’t that what we all do in the end, whether secular or religious?”

Describing the argument that those with a secular viewpoint are more able to make reasonable decisions as “a little frightening”, he said there were countless examples of both religious and non-religious people making what could be seen as ‘inhumane’ decisions.

“And I think that humanity is enriched by different minds and ideologies dialoguing in understanding,” he said.

“After all, does Mr McEwan want all decisions passed by him in some sort of autocratic way?

“The issues mentioned by McEwan are serious and involve human tragedies. I suggest that the way forward is humble conversation rather than a polemical diatribe.

“But then that doesn’t sell as many books.”