In my talk on the incompatibility of science and religion, I gave a “worst-case” scenarios of the harm inflicted by choosing religion over science. I’ve written about this before, so won’t belabor it here, but it involves the denial of medical care to sick or injured children on religious grounds. In most (48/50) U.S., states, parents get a legal break (even exculpation) if their children are harmed or die because medical care is withheld on religious grounds. Christian Scientists and Pentecostal Christians are the biggest offenders, and if you want to read all about this, read When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law by Shawn Francis Peters or God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser (the former is more legally oriented, the latter a history of the Christian Science Church which is a great book and a real eye-opener.
But Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are also guilty, for their religion, based on two Bible verses prohibiting “eating blood,” does not allow blood transfusions. While some blood fractions are permitted, like hemoglobin itself or clotting factors, the transfusion of whole blood, plasma, red or white cells, and platelets are all prohibited. Also prohibited is the transfusion of “self-donated” blood, whereby you give blood in advance of an operation, giving you time to make new blood, and then you have a reserve should you need it. But you can’t do that—Bible says no.
As a result, many, many Jehovah’s Witnesses have died from refusing blood. Not only that, but they brainwash their children into refusing blood, too. Below is a cover and a picture taken from a 1994 issue of Awake! magazine: an official publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every child shown died from refusing blood.
How are they characterized? As “Youths Who Put God First”! When I showed this picture during my talk, there was an audible shudder in the audience. The children are seen as martyrs for their faith’s delusions.
But don’t forget that even those parents who refused blood were once children, too, and most of them were probably brainwashed as well, so to say that they had the “choice” to take a transfusion ignores their own upbringing.
I won’t go into Christian Science, but read Carolyn Fraser’s book if you want to see the children killed in the name of Christian Science. What is curious in these stories—and I’ve read many—is the lack of affect the parents show after having killed their children by refusing medical care (often simple procedures like insulin injections or antibiotics). It is as if they see their kids in the hands of God, and it’s His decision, not theirs. Most maintain that they were good parents, even though their neglect killed their children. And virtually all of those parents get off legally, or are given a slap on the wrist. (In contrast, if you neglect medical care on nonreligious grounds, there is no protection: you are guilty of child abuse or even manslaughter. This is one of the unconscionable privileges that religion gets in our country.)
At any rate, a Jehovah’s Witness came up to me at the meeting (I am curious why they want to attend an atheist/humanist meeting!) and tried to argue with me. Fortunately, I had another appointment, and couldn’t talk. But later that day I got an email from a JW, which I reproduce here without divulging names or identifying information. Note that techniques of “bloodless surgery” have been developed by doctors who deal with Jehovah’s Witnesses and other people who don’t want blood transfusions, though it’s always better to have the option of full transfusion. At any rate, here’s what I received. I have no idea how this person knew I talked about the JWs and blood transfusion (my emphasis below):
I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who takes exception to your opinion regarding blood transfusions. On [date redacted], our [age redacted] year old daughter was pronounced DOA after a car accident in which she sustained an aortic tear. Long story short, she is alive today because she did not receive a blood transfusion. The physician who operated on her is convinced she survived because she did not receive blood. According to [name redacted] the loss of blood served to lower her blood pressure and other bodily functions compensating for the loss of blood. It gave him the opportunity to repair the damaged aorta and she survived an operation with an 85% death rate-W/O blood! Her hemoglobin count at one point while in an induced coma was 2.9. She survived the very same accident from which Princess Diana died two weeks prior. Princess Diana according to published reports was transfused right in the ambulance. Is it possible that the added pressure on the aortic tear made the opening larger and put her body under even more stress? As a result of this surgery, Dr. [name redacted] was asked to a Bloodless Convention to explain his findings in our daughters case. I don’t consider myself a religious fanatic nor am I easily persuaded. I like to do objective research and am convinced that the Bible is inspired of God. His mandate re. the taking of blood is due to his knowledge of his creation. Many doctors and scientist are revisiting their position on bloodless surgery. I would like to suggest you look at our website JW.ORG, if you are not to biased against us on general principle.
Well, even if you believe a transfusion would have killed the daughter, and I am not sure I believe it, there are many more kids who died because they didn’t get transfusions. They are the Children Who Put God First. All doctors would like to have the option of transfusion, but they can’t use if if the patient (even a child) refuses.
The bit in bold shows the true irrationality of this stand, one that is not a simple academic dispute between science and religion, but costs people their lives. And yet this writer claims that he/she is not a religious fanatic, and makes decisions based on “objective research.” This person is wrong on both counts.
I wish there were some way to eliminate religious exemptions from medical care for children. Yet those exemptions were put in place by our own lawmakers—not because they are JWs or Christian Scientists or faith-healing Pentecostal Christians, but because they give the usual unwarranted American deference to religion. They are our laws, and we must be held to account for them. It’s time to change them. Every child should have the chance to live, and that includes getting medical care based on science rather than ambiguous passages in a fictional Iron Age document.