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Faith healing is widely practiced by Christian Scientists, Pentecostalists, the Church of the First Born, the Followers of Christ, and myriad smaller sects. Many of these believers reject all medical treatment in favor of prayer, anointing with oils, and sometimes exorcisms. Some even deny the reality of illness. When they reject medical treatment for their children, they may be guilty of negligence and homicide. Until recently, religious shield laws have protected them from prosecution; but the laws are changing, as are public attitudes. Freedom of religion has come into conflict with the duty of society to protect children. The right to believe does not extend to the right to endanger the lives of children. A new book by Cameron Stauth, In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide, provides the chilling details of the struggle. He is a master storyteller; the book grabs the reader’s attention like a fictional thriller and is hard to put down. He is sympathetic to both the perpetrators and the prosecutors of religion-motivated child abuse, and he makes their personalities and their struggles come alive.
Rita Swan: From Christian Scientist to Crusader
READ MORE HERE
The medical ethics principle of autonomy justifies letting competent adults reject lifesaving medical care for themselves because of their religious beliefs, but it does not extend to rejecting medical care for children. Society has a duty to over-ride parents’ wishes when necessary to protect children from harm. It is not uncommon for the courts to order life-saving blood transfusions for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or cancer treatment against parents’ wishes. But 30 states still have religious shield laws, and every state but Mississippi and West Virginia allows religious and/or philosophical exemptions for school vaccination requirements. Those laws should be repealed. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) requires insurance companies to cover “nonmedical” health care such as prayers by Christian Science practitioners. That provision should be removed.
Note: It has been argued that most of the increase in human lifespan was due to advances in hygiene rather than to advances in medicine. The estimates of a 26-fold increase in infant mortality and a 900-fold increase in maternal mortality among the untreated Followers of Christ demonstrate just how valuable modern medical care really is.