One of the worst aspects of the science-vs.-religion conflict involves medicine, in particular the tendency of some groups to abjure scientific medicine in favor of either religiously-based healing or unsubstantiated methods of folk or spiritual healing that are also based on faith. It’s especially invidious when “faith healing” is given to children.
In many parts of the U.S., and apparently in Canada, it’s okay to withhold medical care from your children if you do so on religious or “traditional medicine” grounds. A chilling report from the U.S.’s National District Attorney Association lists, state by state, how you can get off for killing your kid by relying on prayer for healing. As the report says:
37 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws providing that parents or caretakers who fail to provide medical assistance to a child because of their religious beliefs are not criminally liable for harm to the child.
But of course if you fail to provide medical assistance on nonreligious grounds, you can be criminally liable, so this is a completely unwarranted privilege “enjoyed” by the faithful. Not only that, but it’s resulted in the deaths of hundreds of childrens and newborns (you can abjure midwives and obstetricians) who are given prayer instead of medical care.
I write quite a bit about this in The Albatross, because it’s not only an example of the incompatibility between science and faith, but because it’s widespread in America, and because laws exculpating faith-healing parents were passed by state legislatures (and originally mandated by the Ford administration as part of standardizing child-abuse regulations throughout America), so that we’re all in a sense responsible for the many deaths and injuries to innocent kids. (The federal government eventually withdrew the requirement for religious exemptions, but it was too late: they had already become law in many states.)
And even when parents are prosecuted, the confusing tangle of laws, and the unwarranted sympathy that judges and juries have for religious parents, often mean that convicted parents get off virtually scot-free, sometimes even with unsupervised probation.
This privileging of religion has to stop: all desperately ill children should be required to be given real medical care and not prayer or untested herbs; and parents who don’t give it should be prosecuted just as strongly as parents who are abusive for nonreligious reasons. The Christian Scientists are the most guilty of this kind of neglect (I have a chilling story in The Albatross), but there are many religious sects that rely on faith healing, and there’s at least one estimate that as many as 81% of children who die after given faith-healing could have been saved by conventional medicine.
But this week the U.S. got it right in one case, as reported by KEZI.com in Oregon. Fortunately, that’s one of the states that has no religious exemptions, but does have a plethora of evangelical Christians who hold to faith healing:
After four hours of deliberating Monday evening, a Linn County jury found both Wenona and Travis Rossiter guilty of manslaughter in the first and second degree.
The couple is accused of recklessly and negligently causing the death of their 12-year-old daughter Syble last year, who died from diabetic ketoacidosis. The state argues the parents should have been aware of the girl’s health problems, and that a reasonable person would have sought medical care. The Rossiters claim they thought their daughter had the flu, which is why they did not bring her to a doctor.
The state also presented testimony to the jury that indicates the Rossiters belong to the Church of the First Born in Brownsville, a group that believes in faith-healing. Though Travis Rossiter says in his police interview that he believes it is a sin to see a doctor, Wenona Rossiter testified on Monday that the case was not a question of their religion because they were not aware that Syble had type one diabetes. She also told the jury that she once before took her husband to the emergency room.
The couple will be sentenced on Dec. 19.
Juvenile diabetes is a disease you come across over and over again in cases of faith healing. Parents simply pray while their children die, usually in agony, and yet the condition is easily controlled with insulin. And really, how credible is it that the parents didn’t know that the kid had diabetes? A kid in the last stages of the disease needs to go to a doctor, stat, and not get prayed over because of a suspected case of “flu.” We’ll see whether they throw the book at the Rossiters, as they should, for this is a case where deterrence of others is important. And we need to revoke every religious exemption law for vaccination or faith-healing in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the Canadians have yet to learn this lesson, for a court in Ontario rejected a hospital’s plea that a leukemia-stricken “aboriginal” girl (I guess that’s the term Canadians have for what we call “Native Americans”; they also use “members of “First Nations”) be given chemotherapy instead of the traditional and ineffective herbal medicine that her parents” are using.
A judge rejected an application from a Hamilton hospital that would have seen the Children’s Aid Society intervene in the case of the girl whose family had stopped her chemotherapy at the hospital in favour of traditional medicine. The girl has been undergoing treatment for leukemia in Florida.
In a statement posted on a Six Nations community newspaper Friday night, the family of the girl at the centre of the case says the “stress our family lived until today was uncalled for” and that they would never compromise the child’s well-being, saying plans that included monitoring blood work was part of a care plan.
Excuse me, but that’s total garbage. The family’s “treatment” will kill the girl, and the judge will have her blood on his hands. The doctors estimate that the girl has a 90-95% chance of survival with chemotherapy, but without treatment she’ll die. And yet the “right” of aboriginals to do what they want to their sick kids is celebrated as a triumph, and is protected by law:
Judge Gethin Edward has presided over the complicated and potentially precedent-setting Brantford, Ont., court case since it began on Sept. 25
“I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy,” Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.
Constitutional protection of religion is one thing, and something I favor, but where is the constitutionally protected right to abuse your children by withholding scientific medical care? Children can’t decide for themselves, and if their religious parents want to pray over them instead of taking them to the hospital, the right of the State to protect the child’s life supersedes, in my mind, the “right” to exercise your religious dictates. The CBC report continues;
Edward, citing the testimony of two McMaster Children’s Hospital doctors, agreed the child wasn’t capable of making her own medical decisions. But he found it was the mother’s aboriginal rights — which he called “integral” to the family’s way of life — allow her to choose traditional medicine for her daughter.
. . . Judge Edward reiterated that no one, including the doctors from McMaster Children’s Hospital who have called for legal intervention, has suggested that the girl’s mother is negligent.
“Nobody is suggesting DH is anything but a caring, loving parent,” he said in his ruling.
“Aboriginal rights”? To treat a dying child with a vegetable diet and “positive attitudes”? That’s positively obscene. Click on the screenshot below to hear the 11-minute video giving infuriating arguments by advocates for “traditional” medicine:
There is no “aboriginal right” that justifies withholding proven medicine in favor of woo. When the child dies, let us recall how this court’s decision and deference to “aboriginal rights” led to her death. The gloating is disgusting:
Outside the court, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and New Credit First Nations Chief Bryan Laforme welcomed the ruling, saying it has broader effects across Canada.
”This is monumental,” said Laforme. “It reaffirms our right to be Indian and to practise our medicines in the traditional way.”
Hill said the mother is “overjoyed,” with the news.
When asked about what specific treatment the girl is receiving now, Hill declined to say, adding that was between the family and the girl’s traditional healer — which Hill said involves the same confidentiality of a doctor-patient relationship.
The mother, Hill said, “has the right to do whatever she wants to try and save her child.”
The hospital, sadly, will not appeal. A child’s life will be taken away by misguided respect for “First Nation” strictures, which deserve no more respect, in terms of children’s welfare, than U.S. “religious rights.”
I have a lot more to say about this issue, which infuriates me, but I’ll do it in The Albatross. All I’ll say now is that spiritual/religious healing and “traditional medicine” are both instantiations of faith that contravene science, and that while parents can choose their own treatment, they have no right to inflict death-dealing woo on innocent, uninformed, and often brainwashed children.
Religion is good for society, you say? How many children’s deaths will it take to counterbalance the so-called beneficial effects of faith?
h/t: Stephen Q.Muth, Butter’s staff