Nurse Loses Job for Protesting Talk by New Age Guru: Unsuitable for Catholic Hospital?

Article excerpt

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - When it was announced that New Age guru and best-selling author Deepak Chopra was to speak in this rural community 250 miles west of Denver, a local nurse questioned why her Catholic hospital was one of his sponsors.

After oncology nurse Deborah Hinnant, 40, went to a local newspaper with her concerns, she was abruptly dropped from St. Mary's Hospital and Medical Center's work schedule. Her supervisor, who had backed her, also was let go.

Dr. Chopra spoke July 18 to 1,800 people who paid $65 each to attend his seminar at the Two Rivers Convention Center. Outside, 35 demonstrators carried signs protesting his visit.

"I would have been here sooner," a bemused Dr. Chopra told the crowd at the beginning of his remarks, "but I was outside watching the demonstrators."

The demonstration was organized by Tom Trujillo, publisher of a local Christian newspaper, and Terry Lawrence, chairman of the Mesa County chapter of the Christian Coalition.

Mrs. Hinnant - who attended with her husband, Mark - said she is not planning to sue the hospital. "My whole goal here, as a Christian, was just to educate people," she said. "I knew I was sacrificing my job, but God told me to do this, and I knew he would take care of me."

Mrs. Hinnant became concerned about the hospital's connection with Dr. Chopra in early June, when she found a brochure advertising his seminar in her mailbox at work. At the time, she was working from 24 to 30 hours a week at the hospital on an on-call basis.

"It was in every employee's mailbox in the building, and his posters were up at every time clock," she said, adding that workers were being pressured to attend.

"Employees are always at liberty to attend those things on a case-by-case basis," said hospital spokesman Peter Moberg. "This was an educational offering.

"It is not uncommon for health care organizations to sponsor him," he said. "For the hospital, it was not a religious issue. Dr. Chopra is a physician and an individual who has done research and work in a particular field that is becoming more prominent in mainstream medicine. We certainly understand there is a lot more to healing that just medical intervention."

Dr. Chopra, an endocrinologist from New Delhi, presents a mixture of Eastern religion, popular science and a Hindu healing technique known as ayurveda, the practice of natural healing or holistic medicine.

Until recently, he was a follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the advocate of Transcendental Meditation and erstwhile adviser to the Beatles. Dr. Chopra's books include "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success," "The Way of the Wizard," and "The Return of Merlin," a novel.

Sister Lynn Casey, the hospital's chief executive officer and president, who extended the Chopra invitation, told an audience at Dr. Chopra's morning session that his emphasis on Transcendental Meditation paralleled her own experience with prayer.

"As a Sister of Charity, I have been a practitioner of centering prayer for many years," Sister Casey said. "As I listened to him, I heard him weave familiar Scriptures with venerable respect for ancient practices."

Hospital employees were offered reduced prices for attending the seminar. Physicians received four hours of credit toward continuing-education requirements. Employees also were given the choice of receiving a book or tapes by Dr. Chopra, or a book on the history of the hospital, as a gift to commemorate its centennial this year.

Mrs. Hinnant, who was raised Catholic but now attends an Assembly of God church, said she has reviewed Dr. Chopra's writings.

"What he taught was all New Age, Hinduism, Eastern mysticism," she said. "I thought it was absurd that these two [Dr. Chopra and a Catholic hospital] were connected. …