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Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection

We have written a lot about people who reject science-based medicine and turn to complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), but what about people who reject the very idea of medical treatment?

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

Rita and Doug Swan were Christian Scientists who firmly believed that disease was an illusion, and that “the most dangerous thing they could do was to show lack of faith in God by relying on medical treatment.” (One wonders just how strong their belief was, since when an ovarian cyst caused intractable pain, Rita had surgery to remove it.) When their baby Matthew developed a fever, they paid a Christian Science practitioner to come to their home and pray over him. She told them fever was just fear; and indeed, Matthew recovered.

At age 16 months, Matthew developed a fever again and this time he didn’t improve with the practitioner’s prayers. Rita and Doug were worried but unwilling to reject the lifelong beliefs that made sense of their lives. Rather than taking Matthew to a doctor, they compromised by calling in a second Christian Science practitioner. The practitioner accused Rita of sabotaging her work with fear, and both parents believed that defects in their own thoughts were responsible for Matthew’s illness. Eventually they called in a Christian Science “nurse” (trained in metaphysics, not medicine). She did nothing except talk to Rita. Shortly after she left, Matthew began having convulsions. The desperate parents found an escape strategy: they would take Matthew to a doctor with the complaint of a broken bone (something the Church allowed to be treated by a doctor), and would not mention the fever. He was quickly diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and a brain abscess. They had waited too long. Despite intravenous antibiotics and surgery to relieve pressure on the brain, Matthew died.

That happened in 1977. The Swans promptly resigned from the church. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit, but the case was dismissed. Ever since then, Rita Swan has devoted her life to preventing the deaths of other children from faith healing. She founded the Matthew Project, which developed into a foundation called CHILD (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty). She exposed case after case of child abuse that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and reported outbreaks of polio and measles in Christian Science schools and camps. She documented preventable deaths of Christian Science children from meningitis, diabetes, diphtheria, measles, kidney infection, septicemia, cancer, and appendicitis. The Church fought her at every step, but the surrounding publicity only contributed to the ongoing decline in Church membership (they don’t announce membership numbers, but the number of US churches has fallen from 1,800 to 900, and by one estimate they have fewer than 50,000 members in the entire world).

As time passed, she turned her attention to similar abuses in other religious sects. A one-woman tornado, she cut a swath across America. She headed a child advocacy organization, published a quarterly newsletter, wrote articles, became a media presence, spoke at conferences on child abuse, lobbied and testified in states where proposed bills would help or hinder her cause, and even moved to Oregon for a time during the campaign to pass effective legislation there. She was eventually instrumental in getting religious shield laws changed in several states.

An Indiana case

One of the first non-Christian-Science-related deaths Rita discovered was in Indiana. As Stauth tells the story,

4-year-old Natali Joy Mudd was found dead by detectives in her own home, with a tumor in her eye that was almost as big as the rest of her head. At the horrific scene, a police sergeant found horizontal trails of blood along the walls of the house. The trails matched the height of the girl’s head. Natali had apparently been leaning against the wall as she dragged herself from room to room, blinded, trying to find a way to freedom, before the tumor killed her.

Natali’s parents belonged to the Faith Assembly Church, a Pentecostal offshoot. They didn’t believe in medical care, and they were not prosecuted because Indiana had strict religious shield laws. Two years later, Natali’s five-year-old sister died from an untreated tumor in her stomach the size of a basketball.

The Faith Assembly Church was responsible for as many as 100 childhood deaths and for a maternal childbirth mortality rate that was 870 times the usual rate. The most common cause of death was infant mortality in home births; something that is now rare in Christian Science because it now supports prenatal care and hospital births attended by doctors.

The Faith Tabernacle Church

The Faith Tabernacle Church is a sect that has been responsible for deaths from exorcisms in several countries. One believer strangled her five-year-old son to death and kept his body for several days hoping for his resurrection. One couple in Pennsylvania lost six children to untreated illness, all under the age of two. A measles epidemic involving 491 people resulted in the deaths of six children. One couple was prosecuted for letting their sixteen-year-old daughter die of untreated diabetes, but their sentence was only two years’ probation and community service at a hospital (and the hospital didn’t want them).

The Pediatrics article

In 1998, pediatrician Seth Asser and Rita Swan published an article in the medical journal Pediatrics entitled “Child Fatalities from Religion-motivated Medical Neglect“. They documented 172 faith-healing deaths over a 20-year period, involving 23 different sects in 34 states. The true numbers were undoubtedly much higher, since these cases were collected informally rather than systematically and some deaths are never reported. In most of these cases the prognosis would have been excellent with medical care. Asser later characterized some of the cases as babies literally being tortured to death. In one case, a mother died in childbirth after the infant’s head had been at the vaginal opening for more than 16 hours. The infant’s corpse was so foul-smelling that it was inconceivable that anyone attending the delivery could not have noticed.

In 1988, the American Academy of Pediatrics had called for elimination of religious exemption laws, and in 1983 the federal government had removed religious exemptions from federal mandate; but at the time of the study there were only five states that had no religious exemptions either to civil abuse and neglect charges or criminal charges.

The Followers of Christ in Oregon

In 1997, 20 years after Matthew’s death, a six-year-old boy in Oregon died from a necrotic bowel due to a hernia that could easily have been treated. The pathologist’s first reaction was “Not again!” He and his associate had compiled evidence of 18 children who had died over the last 10 years from curable diseases in a Followers of Christ congregation of 1,200 people. That worked out to 26 times the usual infant mortality rate. And it wasn’t just children: followers’ wives were dying in childbirth at 900 times the usual rate. One died of a type of infection that hadn’t killed anyone in America since 1910.

Nothing could be done about it, because Oregon had one of the strongest religious shield laws in the country. It protected parents from allegations of religious intolerance and gave them the right to withhold medical care for their children. In fact, the shield had just been beefed up: a new law to increase the punishment for murder by spousal or child abuse specifically prohibited prosecution for manslaughter if the person responsible was acting on religious beliefs.

A TV reporter named Mark Hass was told that there had been a cluster of preventable deaths among the Followers of Christ in Oregon City. He looked into it, but there were no criminal complaints, no police investigations, and the county DA was uninterested. When his investigation seemed to have reached a dead end, someone suggested he visit the local cemetery. He counted the graves of 78 children. He launched America’s first major series of TV reports on faith-healing abuse on KATU in Portland.

The psychology of believers

Even Rita and Doug Swan found it hard to break away from the seductive premise that the power of belief itself could heal, a create-your-own-reality idea that is echoed by Rhonda Byrne in The Secret and by a host of other New Age gurus.

The faith healing sects truly believe they are doing the right thing when they let their children die; they accept it as God’s will. Some believers even refuse to wear seat belts. Their inconsistent behavior shows that they tend not to have thought things through very carefully. They hypocritically accept care from eye doctors and dentists. Adults often clandestinely seek medical care for both major and minor medical problems while children don’t have that option. In some cases parents saw a doctor for hangnails or mole removal for themselves yet refused to take their child to a doctor for a fatal illness.

Their beliefs come from groupthink and social consensus rather than from reasoned theology or the Bible. Many of them have not read the Bible; when a whistle blower did, he was surprised to learn how much it differed from what he had been taught. They have a supportive, close-knit community and face overwhelming peer pressure. If they resort to medical care, they are shunned by everyone they know and may never see anyone in their family again.

There has never actually been a single extraordinary healing among the Followers, only ordinary recoveries from common illnesses; but that’s enough to convince them prayer works, if only their belief is strong enough. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and when a child dies the death is considered unavoidable and is attributed to God’s will. An insider said he thought that if a few Followers were punished, the rest would rationalize that going to doctors was OK after all and would come up with a new doctrine. He thought most of them would be happy to change if everybody else did. When courts have ordered blood transfusions for the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have sometimes seemed more concerned about what their co-religionists would think than about the religious implications of the transfusion itself.

Progress in legislation

The first state to repeal a religious shield law was South Dakota. Then CHILD won a federal lawsuit in Minnesota, arguing that taxpayers should not be required to subsidize Medicare and Medicaid payments for Christian Science nursing. Unfortunately, Senator Orrin Hatch negated their win by getting a new law passed that provided for Medicare payment for “religious non-medical health care.” CHILD sued again but this time they lost. In 1999, a compromise bill was passed in Oregon eliminating religious shields for murder by abuse, murder by neglect, first and second degree manslaughter, and criminal mistreatment. After this, no Followers died of medical neglect for the next five years, and there were major modifications in the shield laws in several other states.

Examples of prosecutions

Josef Smith, eight years old, was beaten to death during an exorcism in Tennessee. His parents, members of the Remnant Fellowship, were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.

A mother who beat and smothered her child was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder. She gladly accepted her punishment as part of God’s plan.

The people who starved a 16-month-old to death for failing to say “Amen” and then absconded with his corpse in a suitcase were sentenced to 50 years each for second-degree murder.

A test case was needed in Oregon, but DAs were reluctant to prosecute, and even church members who no longer approved of their own churches were too frightened to provide inside information. Finally Patrick Robbins turned whistle blower after the death of his newborn baby led him to doubt the teachings of the Church. His assistance led to several prosecutions.

In 2008, 15-month-old Ava Worthington died with a softball-sized lump on her neck that obstructed her breathing and caused pneumonia. Investigation of the case was difficult, because witnesses denied having observed any signs that the child was in distress. Her parents were the first to be tried under the revised 1999 law. The jury was sympathetic to the parents. The father was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment, but not of manslaughter; he spent two months in jail. The mother was found not guilty.

The Beagleys were convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old son Neal for complications of a congenital urinary tract anomaly that could have easily been repaired. They each served 16 months (consecutively, so one of them was always home to care for their other children).

18-month-old Alayna Wyland nearly went blind from an untreated enlarging hemangioma that obstructed her left eye. She was rescued just in time for pediatric ophthalmologists to save her eyesight, and her parents were tried for first-degree criminal mistreatment of their child. They got 90 days in jail and three years’ probation.

Alayna Wyland

These are tragic cases. No one likes to see children taken away from their parents, and these parents loved their children and truly believed they were doing the right thing. They were victims too.

Oregon’s 2011 law

The Oregon 1999 compromise bill was not enough: it had repealed five of the nine religious shield exemptions but left four others in place. After five years without a death, three more Followers’ children died in 2008 and 2009. In 2011, after extensive lobbying by Rita Swan and others, Oregon passed a new law to eliminate religious beliefs entirely as a legal defense and allow prosecutors to seek murder charges against parents who deny their children medical care for religious reasons. There are only five other states with no religious exemptions for sick and injured children: Hawaii, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Maryland, and North Carolina.

But Oregon law still allows religious exemptions for caregivers of dependent adults, and it still allows religious exemptions for immunizations, metabolic screening (for conditions like PKU), newborn hearing screening, vitamin K and prophylactic eye drops for newborns, and bicycle helmets. Ashland, Oregon has the highest school vaccine exemption rate of any US city; and in one school in Eugene, 76% of students had rejected one or more vaccines for religious reasons. The religious exemption for bicycle helmets is particularly puzzling: where in the Bible does it say “Thou shalt not wear bicycle helmets” or even “Thou shalt take no precautions against injury”? I guess the reasoning is that if God wants a child to die from a head injury, we shouldn’t get in His way.

The Oregon law is being enforced. Later that year, Dale and Shannon Hickman were found guilty of second degree manslaughter in the death of their infant son, prematurely born at home with only unqualified midwives in attendance. They were sentenced to six years and three months in jail, followed by three years supervised probation.

The tide turns

A few months later, when Oregon members of the Church of the First Born were accused of negligent homicide for the death of their son from a treatable condition, they didn’t even try to fight, but pled guilty. They agreed to provide medical care for their other children and were sentenced to probation with close monitoring.

Some members of the Followers sect were starting to accept medical treatment and even wondering what all the fuss had been about.

In Philadelphia, Herbert and Catherine Schaible, were put on 10 years’ probation after their two-year-old died of untreated bacterial pneumonia. The terms of their probation required them to purchase medical insurance and put their other children under the care of a pediatrician. They callously disregarded the terms of probation and their eight-month-old son died of untreated bacterial pneumonia when they failed to seek medical care for him. They were charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and endangerment. They were jailed and denied bail because the judge feared their co-religionists might hide them in other parts of the country. They pled “no contest.” Their pastor said the father “…knows he has to obey God rather than man.” He said the children died because of the parents’ “spiritual lack.”

Following the Followers to Idaho

Investigative reporter Dan Tilkin of KATU News covered the Oregon court cases, and he has recently reported on 10 more dead children of the Followers of Christ in Idaho, where religious shield laws are still in place. Of the marked graves in the Peaceful Valley Cemetery, more than 25% are children. Sadly, his report ends by saying “No significant move to change the laws is underway.”

Conclusion

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.

Another Note: For those who want to know more but prefer not to buy the book, another source with much of the same information is available free online: the newsletter archives of CHILD (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty). It describes many more tragic cases of children who have been harmed or have died from religion-motivated child abuse and neglect.

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Faith Healing & Spirituality, Politics and Regulation

Leave a Comment (92) ↓

92 thoughts on “Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection

  1. Carl says:

    HEARING tests? That’s one step away from objecting to a doctor checking to see if the baby is breathing.

  2. Renate says:

    It’s not hard to imagine why the hospital didn’t want them to serve community service.

  3. Alexa says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m a native of Oregon, and have been horrified to watch these events take place in my home state (and thrilled that it’s improving there). My spouse (a rabbi) suggests that the bike helmet exemption may be for chasidic boys who have to wear particular hats that would not allow a bike helmet. Why the hat should trump personal safety (a decision that is a clear violation of Jewish law), I can’t say, but there you go.

  4. geekpharm says:

    Excellent article about a seemingly controversial subject. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“Mormons”), I just wanted to clarify the Church’s official opinion on faith healing and the use of scientific medicine. While it is true that we believe in the power of prayer and even anoint with oil, the Church’s official stance has never been to completely reject modern medicine in favor of prayer. We believe they can/should be used together. Even one of our current leaders (one of the “General Authorities) was a renowned heart surgeon that was actually on the team of doctors that created the first hear-lung machine. Now, that’s not to say that every single member follows that counsel, I’m sure there are way more members of the church that reject medicine than there should be (ideally, the number should be 0), and, I’ll admit that the number of members who fall for SCAMs, especially supplement-based MLMs, is a problem that has vexed me since I discovered SBM (I believe it has been addressed before how many said MLM’s have headquarters in Utah), and I have even had arguments with friends and colleagues at church who were anti-vaxers that still refused to change their minds even after I showed them the Church’s official stance on vaccines. If anyone wants to see just how much the church has emphasized the importance of immunizations, you can go to lds.org and type “vaccines” in the search box. I was actually amazed at how many search results there were. Sorry if this got too far off the main topic of the post.

    1. jemand says:

      are some of the listed sects offshoots or extremes of the mainstream LDS church? Because while I think it’s quite likely a lot of Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) offshoots may do faith healing, it is rare to unheard of in the main congregation (at least in the US). Anything with “remnant” this or that in the title is probably offshoot SDA. (branch davidians were, too lol. I’d recommend staying away from schismatic offshoots of SDA or LDS).

      1. geekpharm says:

        If any of the groups mentioned in the article are offshoots, they aren’t well-known or “famous” offshoots (the 2 biggest being the rLDS, now known as Friends in Christ, and the fLDS, which are in a lot of trouble because of polygamy) At least one of the groups mentioned in the article is called an offshoot of Pentecostal, if I remember right. I wouldn’t be surprised if there ARE offshoots of the LDS that do exclusive faith-healing, like you mention about SDA offshoots, since mainstream LDS believes there is a place for anointing and prayers in healing, and offshoots seem to latch onto single elements of doctrine and take them to the extreme (like the polygamists, but that whole issue is REALLY complicated).

        From my experiences talking with people of many faiths (I served a mission for my church when I was 19-21 years old) it seems to me (and I’ll be the first to admit I could be wrong) that the LDS, and possibly the SDA, are probably the most science-friendly religions out there.

      2. Republicus says:

        Just to make it clear, though, mainstream SDAs are generally huge fans of medical science, and even operate the prestigious Loma Linda University where a lot of the early work on organ transplants was done.

        I’m no longer in the church, and I definitely part ways with their young earth creationism, but I also don’t want people to draw the wrong inferences from your excellent post.

    2. Sastra says:

      When you advocate a belief in the “power of prayer,” regularly cite miracles, and couple this combination with constant and regular encouragement to exercise the “power of faith,” then it seems to me that any lines which are drawn (“now over here is where you use science”) are going to be pretty arbitrary. My understanding is that even in the LDS church God outranks the prophets — and members deal directly with God, getting their most reliable advice on where to draw lines from Him.

      I wouldn’t consider this a “science-friendly” religion. You make occasional truces.

      1. geekpharm says:

        I’ll admit that truces are occasionally made. I never said it was completely science-friendly. I just said, compared to others, we are more-so. For example, our leadership has made official declarations that everyone should be immunized, and even donates millions of dollars to humanitarian projects for immunization world-wide. Likewise, while no official statement has been made (other than “This subject doesn’t affect your eternal salvation”), it is generally accepted that we are not a “young-earth creationist” sect and many, if not most, believe that evolution is not entirely incongruous to our faith. Statements have been made emphasizing the importance of secular knowledge and that we should accept truth wherever it is found. Now, let me reiterate, that I admit that truces are made, but my thesis was we do better than some, if not most, other religions.

        1. Nashira says:

          I would submit to you that that’s not enough. “We’re better than they are” is… really not that great of an argument, honestly.

          1. geekpharm says:

            And within the framework of the larger argument of skepticism, atheism, science-vs.-religion (or however you want to frame it) then I would reluctantly concede your point. But within the framework of science-based medicine and health, I would submit that it IS good enough. Our church, although we teach and believe in praying/anointing the sick or injured, we specifically say to not rely ONLY on those; that medical science is a wonderful gift to mankind that we should also rely on. Now, if you want to get into arguments regarding claims of miracles and confirmation bias, etc. I’ll respectfully refrain from such discussions. The entire crux of my argument is that the LDS church specifically says not to reject modern medicine in favor of only faith healing. Many, if not most, other religions cannot say the same about their doctrine.

    3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Have you ever considered just abandoning prayer and going with medicine? If you want something that gives you a bit of quiet time to think and relax, there’s always meditation (but not transcendental meditation, those guys are lunatics).

      You’d have a more efficient use of time, and if you dropped the whole religion thing altogether, you’d probably save on tithes too.

  5. jemand says:

    I was raised Seventh Day Adventist, and I’m not at all sure I’d consider faith healing “widely” practiced among them– they are actually pretty proud of their medical system, hospitals which actually tend to be more responsible than most catholic ones, as they do *not* refuse abortions when necessary to save a mother’s life, emergency contraception to rape victims, etc. A few even offer elective abortions in some cases.

    What is common is rather uncritical views of some dietary restrictions, a cousin who’s parents actually have medical training, was raised entirely vegan and I don’t know that she has ever had proper supplementation with vitamin B12, and vaccine refusal is not unheard of particularly in the homeschooling community, though rare among those who attend church or public schools. While perhaps in the same class of activities, and definitely wrong-headed, these things I’d consider distinct from “faith healing” and people engaging in them would never consider not seeking treatment if something were to go wrong.

    I’m open to alternative evidence– but growing up I never ran across anything similar to common practices in Christian Science or Jehovah’s witnesses communities. What medical care we avoided during my childhood was due to lack of finances and health insurance, and included things like using over the counter drops a few days longer than recommended for ear infections, but if more than a couple days over, we would go in for medical attention and a stronger prescription.

    1. RobRN says:

      I’ll echo Jemand’s comments about Seventh Day Adventists… I’m not SDA but some of my graduate work was done at Loma Linda University Medical Center. While individual practices may vary amongst those of the faith, I never saw a whiff of faith healing promoted there at the medical center or in full range of health profession schools. Their dedication to world-wide medical missionary work is admirable and it was an invaluable source of stool samples for the parasitology teaching lab!

      1. Carl says:

        This is all good to hear, but I must point out that this is a biased sampling. Most members of any religion, and the general population, don’t work in hospitals. It’s like going to Congress and saying, “I never see anarchists around here”.

        1. Republicus says:

          Well of course. There are plenty of atheist woo-sters as well.

          Growing up as an SDA, I definitely met plenty of people who believed weird things (like hydrotherapy) and they certainly pray for healing, but from what I remember the church itself holds that medical science is the basis for the health mission.

          I mentioned earlier that they have plenty of other weird beliefs (a literal reading of Genesis, for instance), but there’s really nothing about humans that prevent that sort of mental compartmentalization. It seems especially weird to me now as an atheist, but growing up in the mainstream Adventist church, that’s just the way it was.

          Come to think of it, I don’t think SDAs believe in an immortal soul (I grew up not believing in one), they definitely don’t think you go to heaven when you die. That might have inured them to some of the wackier elements of CAM, despite otherwise being super religious.

    2. MTDoc says:

      I’ve worked with SDA doctors for many years, and the main stream certainly practices conventional medicine. My wife, an RN, worked in an SDA clinic for 13 years, 1980s and 1990s, while I worked in a nearby Clinic. I had a lot of respect for the docs and most aspects of their lifestyle. Because of their dietary restrictions, we did have to be careful what we brought to potlucks. The bacon bits on the salad was a most embarrassing incident.

  6. goodnightirene says:

    Perhaps this will seem extreme and intolerant, but I think we need to move beyond these extreme examples (while continuing to work to eliminate them), and work toward prevention. I cringe every time I hear an official offer “our prayers” for someone. Perhaps it’s only a phrase and meant to comfort, but it gives a veneer of truth to what is only wishful thinking. Yes, it’s okay to hope for the recovery of someone and maybe it’s only semantics, but it’s the thin end of the wedge for what is described here. It’s just a matter of the degree to which people will swallow magical thinking. It’s so awful to think of these children suffering so greatly at the hands of their own parents.

    I wish someone like Rita Swan would start counting the number of alt med followers who have died from lack of conventional treatment for cancer and other medical conditions. Recent articles in the NY Times about statins have produced hundreds of comments (with hundreds of “recommends”), most of which condemn both statins and the doctors who prescribe them. When a doctor or some busybody (yours truly) posts otherwise, he or she gets four “recommends” or a bunch of responses “informing” her how mistaken she is. The editors of the Times often reward these posters with an “Editors Pick” icon.

    The children described here are at the extreme end of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the less visible. Having lived in some extremely wooish communities, I have seen this firsthand. I hate to use such a phrase, but that is why I’d like to see someone look into deaths in those communities. When people die from cancer in hospices, no one asks any questions because they are adults, but how many were pressured by their peers into accepting magical thinking? Perhaps we can’t legislate for the benefit of adults in the same way as for children’s interests, but we have to continue to try to dispel the cultish thinking that passes as “alternative/integrative” medicine. At least “integrative” might offer an actual diagnosis–depending on the level of credulity of the practitioner.

    Sorry for the length of this comment, but this subject is so profoundly disturbing, I find it difficult to simply move on to the next blog.

  7. Hanna says:

    This is horrible. Being a young doctor (just graduated in Sweden) and a mum to a 6 month old baby it makes me cry and feel nauseous just to think about it. There have been a few exorcism-cases in Sweden (not with a deadly outcome though) and the state sometimes need to take guardianship over children of jehova’s witnesses in need of blood transfusion but thanks to being a mostly secularised country we thankfully rarely see things like this. Again; this is just horrible!

  8. ChrisKid says:

    While I agree with your entire position on the need for action about this, there is one small thing I want to mention. I’m not sure that ‘hypocrisy’ is the right way to see the fact that some parents seek medical care for themselves but not for their children. In some cases it might well be, but it may also be kind of the flip side, if you will, of the medical autonomy. If the belief is that seeking medical care is a violation of faith and therefore puts the soul in danger, it is one thing to make that decisions for yourself. It’s another to endanger a child in that way. I’m not saying it’s right, or that the action is acceptable. But understanding the underlying belief might be more conducive to changing the action.

    1. windriven says:

      ” If the belief is that seeking medical care is a violation of faith and therefore puts the soul in danger, it is one thing to make that decisions for yourself. It’s another to endanger a child in that way.”

      Let’s walk through the theology you’re suggesting. Wilberforce is a nine year old child, well below the age of responsibility in any confessional of which I am aware. Wilberforce’s parents take him for medical care that saves his life. But upon reaching the pearly gates, the deity involved says, “Remember when you were a kid and you were dying and your mother took you to a doctor? Well, just for that you can spend eternity picking cinders from between the pads of satan’s cloven hooves!”

      Do I have that about right?

  9. BobbyGvegas says:

    The righties will say that your position means that the State owns your children.

    1. BobbyGvegas says:

      Just like they think the State owns your fertilized ovum,

    2. windriven says:

      This isn’t political and casting it as such trivializes it. It also alienates those whose politics you dislike but who share your aversion to god-loving murderers and their loathsome crimes. Yes, there are some on the political right who are knuckle-dragging morons. There are others who are thoughtful and serious. The left (lefties?) have their share of batshit crazies too; spend a week in Portland or Seattle or San Francisco. But it would be idiotic to characterize the political left as crypto-Stalinists bent on destroying America.

      Political discourse in America has always had a bit of ad hominem stirred in for seasoning. But in the last few decades demonization of groups and individuals has become the main event with meaningful discussion of the public weal an increasingly rare afterthought. In the ensuing shitstorm opportunities pass us by and problems accumulate like silt in the mouth of a river.

  10. John Davis says:

    Have to give some credit to the Swans. Despite their awful failure with their own child, they managed to avoid that common psychological trap of so many victims of quackery – doubling up, making sense of their loss by trying to prevent others rather than pretending they were right all along.

    1. Calli Arcale says:

      Absolutely. That had to have been immensely painful. Actually, the book goes into that in some detail, and it’s very much worth reading. The abuse they got from the “Mother Church” for a) their son dying despite the “treatment” (yeah, if you pay someone hundreds of dollars to pray your kid back to health and the kid dies, it’s your fault for a lack of faith — they even threw the cyst thing at her, saying *that* was why the kid died, because she’d gotten medical treatment once before) and b) for speaking out against them was astounding. There’s a reason it took this long for religious shield laws to get dismantled. It’s because of the stalwart efforts of the crazy churches to bully people into silence.

      One of the crazy churches not mentioned above is the Church of Scientology. They are also very much invested in this sort of craziness. It’s easy to miss, since they do allow medical care, but there is some medical care they are absolutely opposed to: psychiatric care. And they follow the same pattern of bullying people into silence.

      1. windriven says:

        And the Scientologists scare me more than most of the rest put together because they have a boatload of money. At least the French had the guts to call them what they are: a cult.

        1. Nashira says:

          A boatload of money and a complete and total willingness to, you know, invade government organizations and destroy paperwork, try to destroy the lives of (or at least discredit) their critics… To bully the IRS into granting them status as a religion…

          Scientology scares the hell out of me.

          1. Del says:

            How Scientology differs from many of the other religious groups that practice woo-based-medicine, are the underlying bases for their medical “beliefs”.

            Some are tried-and-true excuses. Hubbard himself had poor experiences with psychiatry; he also self-diagnosed multiple medical conditions which he then “self-cured” and is lionized as a universal expert on all scientific concerns- within the church.

            Then there are the standard Faith healing practices (removal of alien parasites with a galvanometer, laying-of-hands for anything the magic E-Meter can’t fix) which can only be administered by a licensed (and license-paying) auditor, through the church’s mediation.

            But what’s special is the rationale behind not-very-public practices that are a bit worse than most of the silly stuff people like to mock them over. They strongly discourage their members from: medical insurance and seeking treatment for major illness. The given rationale is (Insurance means you don’t trust Scientology. Scientology can cure you! Better!) The actual rationale is that insurance costs money that could better be donated to the church. And treatment for illness also costs money that could better be donated to the church.

            Contempt for their own practitioners, barely concealed avarice are the hallmarks of scientology-based-medicine. Scary? All I can say is that a little good hygiene goes a long way.

  11. Harriet Hall says:

    Thanks for the input. I took that list of faith-healing religions from the book, and I’m not sure what the author meant about SDAs, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. JWs reject transfusions, but I couldn’t find evidence of any of these religions engaging in the same kind of faith healing as the faith-healing sects. So I have revised the list.

    1. nancy brownlee says:

      You’re right, Dr. Hall. In fact, JW’s explicitly reject faith healing- and even reject prayer for personal gain, as in praying to be healed. They believe that ‘the age of miracles has passed’. Refusal of blood transfusion and the use of blood products in medicine is based on the Jewish prohibition of blood as food. Witnesses virtually always cooperate with court orders requiring their children to be transfused- and my personal observation is that they do so with great relief.
      I was raised as a Witness; both sides of my family were/are JWs. I left as soon as I figured I could outrun them.

  12. Mark says:

    It is difficult to argue that children do not deserve protection from misguided parents. It is harder to argue they do not deserve protection from a misguided society.

    Herein lays the quandary. Does the erosion of religious shield laws – essentially freedom of religion laws – have broader implications not only for the many children who do not die but for society as a whole?

    Looking from here, a Pastafarian viewpoint, the answer is yes and those broad implications are highly negative for society as a whole. See obamacare and the entire birth-related discussion for a current example.

    Let me suggest, then, that the proper argument is not against religious shield laws but for better science education, especially in the basics taught at the elementary level. That would also take care of many of the issues SBM properly rails against.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Better science education wouldn’t reach those who need it most. It would have no impact on the many children of faith-healing sects who are home-schooled.

    2. nancy brownlee says:

      @Mark
      “Let me suggest, then, that the proper argument is not against religious shield laws but for better science education”

      Are you suggesting that we can only do one or the other? Or that religious nutters will wait around for decades, their children in some kind of protective stasis, until the light of science and reason breaks over their heads and persuades them into not murdering their kids?

      1. Mark says:

        @ nancy brownlee What I am saying is the erosion of one portion of the Bill of Rights (For those outside the US: http://www.ratical.org/co-globalize/BillOfRights.html ) will necessarily lead to further erosion. I further propose that the aggregate suffering of those living under a government without those rights far exceeds any suffering caused by maintaining those rights and finding an alternative way to teach people medicine is better than prayer.

        I think an analysis of the lives of soviet block citizens confirms my proposal.

        1. nancy brownlee says:

          @Mark
          Oh, there’s that slippery slope again…
          Preventing parents from sacrificing their children to their gods does not erode the rights of anyone. It preserves the most basic of rights for the children- the right to live and grow up free of, uh, being dead. Preventing human sacrifice is, among the civilized, generally agreed to be a positive thing. As a person who grew up in a dim-witted xtian cultish kind of a sect – and not even the worst of them- I’m here to tell you that the rights of the children mean nothing to them. NONE of the members have any particular rights, but the kids are of course completely helpless.
          People should be prevented by law from torturing, murdering, and injuring their children. No matter what their excuses.

        2. Calli Arcale says:

          What I don’t personally understand is how this *is* an erosion of the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment prohibits the state from establishing a religion. But by providing a religious shield to exempt people from prosecution for doing what would otherwise be illegal puts the state in the interesting perspective of endorsing a religious view.

          If you want to take a religious shield law to its logical conclusion, consider that the 9/11 hijackers were motivated by religious conviction. I’m sure you’d agree it’s absurd to acquit their mastermind on the basis that he was doing what he believed was necessary for his faith. Why is it absurd if the accused is a Muslim Arab and the victims anonymous adults, but reasonable if the accused is a Christian American, and the victims their own children?

          Furthermore, do the children not have a right to freedom of religion themselves? If we permit parents to do anything they wish to their children in the name of religion, then we are violating the children’s rights. There is no guarantee the children will grow up to share their parents’ beliefs, and as is quite evident by statuatory rape laws, we clearly do not believe children can be considered to have a full understanding of what it is they’d be deciding.

          Removing religious shield laws does not weaken the Bill of Rights. It extends those rights to the most vulnerable amongst us.

          1. Mark says:

            Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

            I think it is a clear cut violation of free exercise.

            As for children’s rights, the state(s) have made it abundantly clear that childern’s rights are subservient to adult’s decisions. Particularly when the adult is the state. “As minors by law children do not have autonomy or the right to make decisions on their own for themselves in any known jurisdiction of the world. Instead their adult caregivers, including parents, social workers, teachers, youth workers, and others, are vested with that authority, depending on the circumstances” Lansdown, G. “Children’s welfare and children’s rights,” in Hendrick, H. (2005) Child Welfare And Social Policy: An Essential Reader. The Policy Press. p. 117

            We might argue about age as the sole adjudicator of childhood but it will be very difficult to argue that children have either the knowledge base or intellectual capacity to make most of life’s major decisions including religious practices.

            1. Calli Arcale says:

              I notice you happily ignored my point about the 9/11 hijackers. Where do you draw the line? You seem to feel it is fine to withhold medical care from a child in the name of religion; how do you feel about murder? If someone said you were a witch, and that according to Scripture they could not suffer a witch to live, and they tried to kill you, would you agree that they should stand trial for attempted murder, or do you think the free exercise of their religion is important enough that they should walk free?

              As for children’s rights, the state(s) have made it abundantly clear that childern’s rights are subservient to adult’s decisions.

              Yet the law does not give adults carte blanche either. Parents and legal guardians have limits. You can’t beat your child to death. You can’t torture them. You have to let them get an education. You have to clothe them. You have to shelter them. You can’t let them wander around after curfew. You can’t rape them. And parents who do these things can be convicted, sent to jail, and can lose custody.

              We might argue about age as the sole adjudicator of childhood but it will be very difficult to argue that children have either the knowledge base or intellectual capacity to make most of life’s major decisions including religious practices.

              That is actually the main argument *against* religious shield laws. Since the children cannot legally consent, how can they be said to be freely exercising religion? Thing is, it’s not really the children’s religion we’re talking about here. It’s the parents. The parents are free to exercise their religion — but should they be free to dictate their children’s religion? Or, just read the comments by LKM below.

              1. Mark says:

                “I notice you happily ignored my point about the 9/11 hijackers. ”

                I often ignore straw men. Asking for healing from your god and killing in the name of your god don’t belong i the same thought.

                “That is actually the main argument *against* religious shield laws. Since the children cannot legally consent, how can they be said to be freely exercising religion?”

                No, of course they can’t. The question is who has that authority for them? In the American model, we have parental control enshrined in the Bill or Rights. On the other, we have enforced abortion in China.

                But, once again you bring in straw men. Rape, intentional murder, and assorted other mayhem can hardly be compared to attempts to heal thru their god(s).

                Nancy, yell slippery slope all you want. Then think about this: NHTSA is now random;y pulling people over and taking a passive breathalyzer before giving you a consent form – to take your DNA. The NYC soda ban was tossed not because it is considered (in NYC at least) your right to determine what you eat and drink but because enforcement was “arbitrary and capricious.” That is, it allowed some places to continue selling big sodas while banning others. Continuing in the food vein, the Feds appear to be on the verge of banning all trans-fats. You remember, the same trans-fats they pushed on us years ago. Looks like pretty fur slide down the personal responsibility slope to me.

              2. Calli Arcale says:

                Straw men? Not at all. It’s a slippery slope argument, not a straw man argument. Where do *you* draw the line? You did not answer. You are okay with healing, but not “intentional” murder. What about the woman who murdered her son, then kept his body for days in hopes of a resurrection? Does that count as intentional, since she believed if she prayed hard enough, he’d come back to life?

                I have no problem with people asking God to heal their children. I have a big problem with them neglecting their children in the name of God. And you think rape is a strawman? There are seriously sects where the parents have turned their children over to be raped to rid them of demons. Crazy? Yes. But by your argument, that would be permissable, because we must respect the parents’ religious freedom.

                What about exorcisms? A lot of faith healers attribute disease to demonic possession. Some have gone to terrifying lengths to expunge those demons. They’d make the Spanish Inquisition proud. Some of these cases have ended in fatalities. Is that okay, by you, since it was the parents decision to do this, based on their religious view of how to treat illness?

                Incidentally, the Bill of Rights says absolutely nothing about parental rights.

              3. windriven says:

                @Mark

                “In the American model, we have parental control enshrined in the Bill or Rights. On the other, we have enforced abortion in China.”

                1. Could you direct me to exactly which Amendment(s) enshrine parental control;

                2. Enforced abortion in China is a substantial straw man.

            2. windriven says:

              Mark, you do not have SCOTUS with you on this. Polygamy and sacramental drugs are two issues where ‘free exercise’ has been curtailed. Protecting children from religious foolishness is certainly likely to fall within the Court’s limited embrace of free exercise.

            3. Kathy says:

              @Mark: “As for children’s rights, the state(s) have made it abundantly clear that childern’s rights are subservient to adult’s decisions. ” and “Instead their adult caregivers, including parents, social workers, teachers, youth workers, and others, are vested with that authority, depending on the circumstances”.

              Surely the law applies to everyone equally, regardless of religion. Some laws “outrank”religious freedom, surely? If, say, a teacher beats a child with a cane, or if a total stranger does so, is that judged differently from a parent doing the same thing? If the parent states that this is in accordance with his/her religion, does (s)he get off scot free as a consequence?

              America the Bold and Free has a lot of hard thinking to do – how much should one conform to the law and it’s servant the elected government, and when is it necessary to defy the law and go some other way? South Africa went the same road – when apartheid was in power it was clearly right to defy the laws in several respects, but once apartheid was dispensed with, the attitude persisted long after the need for it was gone. The result has been very unfortunate, and crime is not only rampant now but acceptable, even a way of life to many.

              Freedom of religion was a reaction to the oppression from which many immigrants had suffered, but taking it as an absolute value in today’s American society is going to prove – is proving – problematical. Both those who cry, “The law comes first” and those who cry “Freedom of religion” are equally sure they are right.

        3. windriven says:

          “I further propose that the aggregate suffering of those living under a government without those rights far exceeds any suffering caused by maintaining those rights.”

          This is a non sequitur. There is no necessity for religious rights to include the torture or murder of children. Nothing of value is lost. And comparing this with enforced abortion in China is frivolous.

  13. windriven says:

    “[The pastor] said the children died because of the parents’ “spiritual lack.”

    Now there’s a god worth worshipping. The parents are insufficiently observant so this loving and benevolent sociopath visits a horrific death on their child. Where do I sign up?

    1. Calli Arcale says:

      windriven: it’s probably not coincidence that many of these sects are not evangelistic. Some are, like Christian Science and Scientology. But the Followers of Christ that form the heart and soul of the book are not. This partly accounts for their high rate of disease — not only do they reject medical care, but because of their extremely restrictive views towards outsiders, they have a high rate of intermarriage. A lot of “kissing cousins”, which means a higher rate of genetic diseases. But more to the point, if you’re not interested in converting the heathens, you really don’t care how bad you look to the outside world. In fact, looking bad to the outside world may work in your favor, because you can play your parishioners off against the outside world. Give them a common enemy, so they don’t stop to think about what you’re asking them to believe.

      1. windriven says:

        ” A lot of “kissing cousins”, which means a higher rate of genetic diseases. ”

        Reminds me of an old joke: do you know how foreplay works back in the holler* … “Hey Sis, you up?”

        “Give them a common enemy, so they don’t stop to think about what you’re asking them to believe.”

        An astute observation. Various politicians have used a similar strategy to good effect. Good in the sense of successful. I suspect you’ve hit on the ‘secret sauce’ of a lot of these cults.

        *holler is hollow in the Appalachian dialect – a crease or flat spot in the hills. “He lives back up ‘er in the holler with his brother and them.” I have relatives who speak this way. As an aside to an aside, you haven’t lived till you been to a tent revival in Appalachia.

  14. LKM says:

    I am a former member of the Followers of Christ. I can only describe the deaths of their children as ritualistic torture. For anyone who is against changing laws to protect children. I ask you to read the coroner’s reports of the children who have died. Then think how you would feel if you were restrained for days while you screamed in pain until you were to weak to fight the disease any longer. It is not only the children who are suffering from this abuse. Many adults have begged to be taken to a doctor only to be told no and restrained.
    I suffered for years from ear infections that progressed to the point of bleeding ear drums. I went to school with whooping cough. I often wonder how many kids I infected with contagious illnesses that coud have been prevented.
    I cannot begin to make people understand how horrific a life like this is. I for one have joined with KATU, Dan Tilkin, Rita Swan and countless others to try and end this abuse.
    As for Obama Care…there is a push to let people opt out for religious reasons. My brother opted for no medical care because he didn’t believe in medicine. When his illness caused pain that untolerable he went to the emergency room. The tax payers in Idaho are now paying for hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills just so his life could be spared for another three years. He passed way earlier this year. Just think of the economical impact this could have on the U.S.

    1. windriven says:

      If you wouldn’t mind sharing, how did you come to leave the Followers? What was it that changed your perspective? We’re you always skeptical about the church or did that come to you later in life?

      1. LKM says:

        That is a difficult question. I never wanted to be part of the church even as a child. I have always wondered why we went to the dentist and eye doctor. Our animals always had vaccines and vet care. When I asked why …no one in the church ever gave me an answer. Children were to be seen and not heard. To completely understand where I am coming from you would have to know my whole story. Too many details for this forum. I left the church and my family when I was 16. I chose to get married to escape the abuse at home.
        The church members believe that medicine is a temptation from Satan and to go to a doctor is to give into that temptation. To them it shows a weakness in faith.

        1. windriven says:

          I’m glad you reached escape velocity however it happened.

    2. Calli Arcale says:

      Thank you for posting. I hope everyone reads what you’ve said, especially those who think religious freedom is so paramount that it comes before the welfare of children.

  15. Sciling says:

    In an extremely overpopulated world. Just let the idiots do as they please and help lower the percentage of ignorants in the Homo sapien population.
    You also get the benefits of a reduced population and a remote chance to save the species from the ongoing extinction of the mega species caused by the stupid species that believes the universe exists for its benefit.

    1. davdoodles says:

      Sorry, I disagree. As Dr Novella said, adults are free to make their own decisions, including to refuse medical care.

      But here, we re talking about the protection of children from the idiots you describe.

      And, an argument that the planet (on which, I note, you continue to reside) is too crowded and therefore children should die so you can get some elbow room doesn’t actually make you look like the environmetal altruist you might imagine yourself to be.
      .

    2. Chris says:

      “Just let the idiots do as they please and help lower the percentage of ignorants in the Homo sapien population.”

      Actually, knowing that offspring will live plus educating women has been shown as a much better way to reduce population growth. When infectious diseases run rampant, families would have a dozen children hoping half would live. In the USA, UK, Japan, Italy, etc… a family can limit their family to just two kids with a good chance they will see their babies have a baby themselves. Yet, in places like Afghanistan the opposite happens.

    3. BobbyGvegas says:

      davdoodles smackdown.

  16. Hiram says:

    Your article implies that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) practice faith healing, and that they often reject modern medicine as well as the associated science.

    This is false.

    Mormon doctrine states in no uncertain terms that God will not help a person who does not try to help themselves. It is the individual’s responsibility to seek the best medical care possible, as well as to live a healthy life style.

    I have not researched any of the other faiths mentioned in this article, though one assumes if the author was so loose with their facts with regards to one faith they may very well have taken liberties with the beliefs of the other faiths mentioned as well… though I cannot say one way or the other.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      @Hiram,
      Didn’t you notice that the article no longer lists Mormons as faith healers? I explained in a previous comment why I was removing Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses from the list.

    2. geekpharm says:

      Hi Hiram,
      Thanks for the input. However, I already addressed that in comment #5, which Dr. Hall then corrected and replied in comment #12.

      While everything you said regarding the church is correct, the perceived tone was that of argumentation, which usually does more to raise tempers and less to add meaningful discourse. I don’t know if you’re a regular reader, but welcome and stick around. This blog is a great resource.

  17. And this article is a huge argument for the banning of religion. It does far more harm than good. If you honestly believe otherwise, you need your fecking head examined.

    1. Sawyer says:

      In the US, I would prefer to pursue the hundreds of already viable legal options for saving children’s lives than completely eliminating the Bill of Rights. Let’s try not to alienate the 80% of Americans that are already on our side of being anti child murder.

    2. nancy brownlee says:

      @Robert W. Foster

      And if you honestly believe that ‘banning religion’ has a chance in hell of accomplishing anything positive, I suggest you read the history of religion banning in general.

    3. windriven says:

      No reason to ban religion. It is burning itself out, at least in the West. I’m happy to just squirt a little gasoline on the flames from time to time.

      And I would certainly agree with Sawyer that banning religion is not consistent with a free and open society. Most religious people are thoughtful and well-meaning. I am confident that science and reason will ultimately triumph over fear and superstition. Meanwhile I’m happy enough if we can keep crazies from doing craziness.

      1. Harriet Hall says:

        I wouldn’t advocate banning religion even if such a thing were possible, which it isn’t. People have the right to believe whatever they want. They have the right of free speech about their religion. They even have the right to risk their own lives because of their religious beliefs. But they don’t have the right to force their beliefs on others, or to endanger children by their religious practices.

  18. DW says:

    I wanted to clarify a couple of points about Christian Science, as I was raised in it.

    To say they practice “faith healing” is not quite correct. They don’t believe illness exists at all, thus there is nothing to heal. They believe material reality does not exist at all (it is an illusion of “mortal mind”); hence illness is not, strictly speaking, possible. It’s metaphysically nonsensical.

    They do not believe in the power of prayer to “cure,” and they do not ask God to cure or relieve pain, etc. Prayer essentially consists of “knowing the truth,” i.e. recognizing, reminding, or convincing yourself that the illness does not actually exist.

    Presumably, once you “realize” this, you’ll, well, feel better. It doesn’t work. All Christian Scientists know it doesn’t work; the thing is to play the game of consulting practitioners etc., to comply with authority.

    Paradoxically – or perhaps it’s actually perfectly logical – a lot of Christian Scientists are extremely hypochondriacal or neurotic about their health.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      I mentioned in my article that Christian Scientists believe disease is an illusion. I think it is acceptable to include them under the faith healing umbrella, since they treat the “illusion of disease” by faith-based practices intended to create the “illusion” of wellness.

      1. DW says:

        Yes I agree they belong under the “faith healing umbrella.” I just like to take the chance to offer tidbits about Christian Science when it comes up. Christian Scientists tend to consider themselves more sophisticated than “faith healing” types. They don’t have anything resembling the dramatic laying on of hands type rituals that go on in the evangelical communities. They don’t shout Thank you Jesus! when they feel better. They’re discreet and low key. They’re embarrassed by that stuff and don’t want to be associated with it, they want to fly under the radar as regards the public scorn for “faith healing”. Really they should be called out on this because what they’re doing fits that taxonomy for practical purposes.

  19. nancy brownlee says:

    @Mark
    “Asking for healing from your god and killing in the name of your god don’t belong i the same thought”

    Sure they do. Both examples are justified by the faithful as being absolutely required by their god. No further justification required, according to your interpretation of the Bill of Rights – both are acts of faith and as such are protected. Or is it just particular acts of faith- just particular little murders? Why would you allow some legal proscription of acts of faith, but not others?

  20. Bruce says:

    As someone with a son who is jsut under 1 reading through this was quite painful as I really could not understand how a parent could let their child go through so much pain. I agree that people need to be free to believe what they want, but this kind of thing really makes me question religious freedom.

    The other thing that kept flicking through my mind through reading this was that I couldn’t help making parallels to parents I know who will use alternative remedies on their children. While they are more likely to eventually go to a proper doctor, it scares me to think that they might delay vital treatment while they cycle through their woo.

  21. John Taylor says:

    The parents need charged with child abuse and even murder.
    However, the Church leadersh9ip and the parents pastor also need charged with conspiracy to commit child abuse, and conspiracy to commit murder for teaching something they should know is quite untrue.

  22. Kimbo says:

    QUOTE: ” No one likes to see children taken away from their parents, and these parents loved their children and truly believed they were doing the right thing. They were victims too.”

    Eh, I don’t know. I would be interested to know what any of those parents would have done if they themselves had a gigantic bleeding tumor engulfing their own eyes or a large hemangioma blinding them like the little girl shown above. If they themselves were suffering from such a severe ailment, would they really eschew medical care or at least painkillers? Would they really just sit quietly and wait for God’s decision while in the pain, fear, and confusion that these children must have suffered?

  23. Thomas says:

    The article appears to make a distinction between groupthink and social consensus on one side, and reasoned theology or the Bible on the other. There is none. The only validity of the bible comes from social consensus, on its own it’s just another fairy tale.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      I would argue that theology and readers of the Bible may correctly follow the rules of logical reasoning, but logic goes astray when it is based on false premises.

  24. NorrisL says:

    “The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable”

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