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   Health Care Chaplaincy in Switzerland

Marlène Inauen, lic. phil.
Hospital Chaplain, University Hospital, Zurich

For 23 years I worked at the City Hospital Triemli, the last ten years as head of the Catholic chaplaincy team. During this time I focused especially on the care of dying cancer patients and on a unit for gynaecology, birth, social support and children’s home for mothers in difficulties. Furthermore, in close co-operation with the Protestant team, I participated in the interdisciplinary bioethics committee and led different groups of volunteers, especially one, whose members are willing to spend two nights a month with dying patients.

In January 2008 I changed to the University Hospital of Zurich. Now I am a member of a team of seven chaplains, and assigned to a unit of intensive care and neuro-surgery and other units of heart and visceral surgery. At the University Hospital interdisciplinary work is a matter of fact; the chaplaincy is well integrated. Perceiving the actual needs of patients, families and staff is important.

The church in the canton of Zurich has made a great effort to restructure chaplaincy and to assess the needs. Now, qualified spiritual care givers are assigned to every hospital, also in the countryside. A leader of all Catholic hospital chaplains has been chosen.

Lay hospital chaplains – men and women – have become the majority, the few priests assigned mostly to parishes. The denominational influence has diminished, many patients have no link to the churches.

For many years I have been a member of the board of the Association of the Swiss Catholic German-speaking Hospital Chaplains. I participated in elaborating ecumenical guidelines for Swiss Hospital Chaplaincy. In the meantime we are concerned with questions of quality and with research.

Development in the next years:

The impact of organisations gathering members who want to be assisted with possible suicide is still great. Discussions are widespread in the newspapers especially when these organisations cause “tourist suicide” – people coming to Switzerland for assisted death. In Zurich the nursing homes are allowed to admit organisations for assisted suicide, when a resident has no longer a home-address (argument of justice for all). The hospitals demand that they return home. When the University Hospital in Lausanne defined criteria for assisted suicide within the hospital, the mass media spread the news emphasizing the new freedom – the same, when the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences (SAMW) defined certain conditions for the personal decision of a physician to assist suicide.

Palliative care has developed in Switzerland during the last years and is structured as an interdisciplinary movement, known also by political authorities. For the future it seems important to me that chaplains get in closer contact with this movement. Till now only a few chaplains participate actively within, and psychologists are beginning to cover the same area. Similar to physicians they use studies to prove the efficiency of their interventions, e.g. the benefit for life quality.

As chaplains we feel the challenge to begin with studies, too, to make aware for ourselves and the medical world around us the specific qualities of our service. Our association has just taken the first steps thereto. Evidentially we will have to think about questions such as: Is assessment of hospital chaplains’ work possible? Or will there, within the management framework, be a quiet move in the direction of hospital chaplaincy fulfilling all spiritual needs of all spiritual customers? How does this fit in with God’s grace or the prophetic challenges of the Gospel?

In other areas, e.g. urgency care, some independent groups begin to introduce themselves directly to the hospitals. Paid by an annual fee, they promise assistance in need. Hospital chaplaincy is not always welcome in these care teams.

In different other areas chaplaincy was once leading, e.g. training seminaries for assisting the dying and the bereaved. More and more this is being offered by different groups, independent of faith or church background.

New answers to real needs were found in ecumenical memorial liturgies, inviting staff and relatives having lost a dear person in the hospital during the year, attracting and comforting many people.

Also in the area of pregnancy loss and infant death the churches (especially women chaplains), together with the hospital staff, have found an increasing attention and a variety of rituals, liturgies, special cemeteries to help these families in grief.


[September 2010]

Audrey Kaelin, MA, MTh
Hospital Chaplain, Clinic Hirslanden Zurich

Audrey Kaelin is a Catholic theologian with Clinical Pastoral Training. For two years she worked as a chaplain at the City Hospital Triemli Zurich and the Cantonal Hospital Winterthur. In both hospitals she was responsible for the volunteer group, whose members are willing to spend two nights a month at the bedside of a patient who does not want to be alone. Since January 2008 she has been working as a chaplain at the Clinic Hirslanden Zurich.

Before her studies in Theology Audrey worked as a college teacher for English and History. Her background is bilingual - having grown up in the U.S.A. and Switzerland. English is her mother tongue.

The Clinic Hirslanden Zurich (260 beds) belongs to the Hirslanden Group of Private Hospitals in Switzerland. Audrey works together with a Protestant chaplain. Both are employed by their church. They also have contact with the Jewish community.

Audrey Kaelin's main tasks are

- pastoral care of the Catholic patients as well as other patients in need; intensive care unit

- supervising a volunteer group, whose members visit patients during the day

- courses for nurses and the volunteer group

- attending the meetings with the chaplains of the five hospitals in the area as well as with the hospital chaplains in the city of Zurich

[September 2010]

Situation of Protestant German-speaking Health Care Chaplaincy in Switzerland

Health Care Chaplaincy in Switzerland is structured according to the local and historical situation. The structures are mostly depending on the different organisation of the churches and their specific ways of collaboration with the health care institutes. The Catholic Church is more homogenous than the very manifold field of the independent around 25 Protestant Churches due to the 26 political unities, called Cantons (Every Swiss Canton is in fact a little autonomous state for itself with its constitution, parliament and government.). There are though hardly other denominations and religious institutions involved.

Hospital Chaplaincy is mainnly organized by the churches of the different cantons. In some cases there are associations of parishes, single parishes, foundations or the health care institutions themselves that pay and organize.

Types of Health Care Chaplaincy organisations in CH (examples):

A. Cantonal churches – pay and organize Heath Care Chaplaincy (infrastructure by the hospital):

B. Association of parishes – pay and organize Health Care Chaplaincy:

C. Health care institutes – pay and organize Health Care Chaplaincy for themselves:

D. Foundations – pay and organize it. For example

There are combinations and mixtures of the different structures due to the historical development.
… .
E. Chruches in collaboration with Hospitals are sharing their responsibility:



Association of the Swiss Protestant German speaking Hospital Chaplains


History:The association of the Swiss Germanspeaking Hospital Chaplains has its beginnings in 1930. In this year the first “Konferenz Evangelischer Spitalpfarrer der deutschen Schweiz” took place. Thought as a trial the involved hospital chaplains decided to go on yet at the first conference.

Structure: The association consists of about 150 members. Chaplains can join the association if they work in a health care institution and have an academic degree in theology and an additional specific formation focused on health care, spirituality and psychotherapy. 
There are different fields of working: general hospitals, psychiatric clinics, nursing homes and elderly homes, rehabilitation institutes and homes for handicapped people.




Important issues:

Adriaan Maurits Kerkhoven
I have 13 years of experience in health care chaplaincy. The last 7 years I worked as a chaplain in University Hospital of Bern. The work was focused on spiritual care, crisis intervention, HR management and interdisciplinary projects as MBSR and training. Actually I work as a lecturer, as a spiritual depth- and body-psychotherapist in a doctors surgery and as pastor.

[September 2010]