Faith Healing Kills Children

May 24, 2015

Photo by djedzura/Shutterstock

By Jerry A. Coyne

As preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough are reappearing in the United States, many anti-vaxxers are re-evaluating their opposition to immunization, and others are questioning nonmedical exemptions from vaccine requirements. The California state Senate, for instance, just overruled a long-standing law that permitted parents with religious and philosophical reservations to send their children to public and private schools without their shots.

This is a sound decision: Vaccinations are safe and essential for the health of our society. We cannot allow philosophy or faith to trump public health. But denying children potentially life-saving vaccines is just one part of the problem; I’d like to eliminate even more exemptions: those now enshrined in many laws permitting religious parents to withhold scientific medical care from their children in favor of faith healing.

Forty-eight states—all except West Virginia and Mississippi—allow religious exemptions from vaccination. (California would be the third exception if its bill becomes law.) A similar deference to religion applies to all medical care for children. As the National District Attorneys Association reports, 43 states give some kind of criminal or civil immunity to parents who injure their children by withholding medical care on religious grounds.

If your faith mandates spiritual healing and your child dies because you offer prayer instead of insulin or antibiotics, your chances of being charged with a crime are slim. There are religious exemptions for child neglect and abuse, negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter. Several states allow parents to use a religious defense against charges of murder of their child—and in some places they can’t be charged with murder at all. And even when parents are prosecuted, acquiescence to religious belief often leads to their being acquitted or given light sentences, including unsupervised parole. None of this, of course, applies to parents who refuse medical care on nonreligious grounds; those individuals get no immunity from prosecution.

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10 comments on “Faith Healing Kills Children

  • A religious objection is the most frivolous reason to endanger the health of your child and his/her friends.

    In a way, it is like forcing your religious craziness on others. I should be protected from the lunacy of people with religious different from me. Surely my right to live trumps your right to be an asshole.

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  • If your faith mandates spiritual healing and your child dies because you offer prayer instead of insulin or antibiotics, your chances of being charged with a crime are slim.

    Ewan. If the parents of the child had not been inculcated into religion, would the probability that the child dies be lessened. Religion. It just keeps on giving. Passed from parent to child. This is an example of the abuse I was talking about on the other string.

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  • I find this state of affairs hard to believe and impossible to forgive.

    I submit that science is principally responsible for having made this the best time ever in human history to be alive, but still this moronic behaviour persists.

    And why? One word: religion! Ignorance is not blissful, it’s hellish.

    I can’t bear to think about the suffering some children are having pointlessly inflicted on them; the arrogance and vanity of their parents stems directly out of blind faith; it seems to even override their natural instincts, and that is against nature, as are many religious doctrines, including, of course, the ridiculous dogma of

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  • yes, I just love that “my right to live trumps your right to be an asshole”, I can’t agree more with you, and it certainly does cover the secular argument in a nutshell, with regard to everything. love it.

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  • 6
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Like Hitchens said… only religion can make good people do really bad things. Well I would go one step further and say that faith itself is the cause of this egregious abuse. The name of their sect says it all: Faith healing. And the harm caused by this kind of faith is independent of any organized religion or religious institution.

    Blind faith unsupported by evidence or in spite of overwhelming evidence is a dangerous idea. It leads straight to exploitation, abuse and intolerance which in turn leads to needless suffering and death.

    When believers and apologists of faith write comments like “The reality of a loving God”, they ought to be refered to this reality in the face of which, their claim is not only a staggering delusion but also a gross and disingenuous distortion of the meaning of the words “reality” and “love”.

    The really sad and frustrating part is that truly decent people who believe in this kind of nonsense, while most often not hurting anyone directly, are in fact enablers. They bring a significant contribution to the reproduction and the survival of the faith virus in generations to come. As a consequence, more people will suffer and die for no good reason.

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  • Isn’t this a form of Darwinian Evolution? -Survival of the Fittest. ie religious people and faith healers will all die off eventually and scientists will rule the world.

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  • NearlyNakedApe: the first Christopher Hitchens Lecture is being delivered at this year’s Hay Book Festival by the author Tom Holland; the subject: De-radicalising Muhammad.

    As I understand it, part of the proposition being put is that IS are genuine Muslims, for the simple reason that their interpretation of the Qur’an is a legitimate one.

    A fitting tribute to Christopher Hitchens I think.

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  • Except that it unfortunately isn’t the religious that are dying in this situation, it’s the children who could, potentially, grow to become great scientists and logical thinkers.

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  • And indeed, it isn’t just the passive religious that act as enablers, but also the passive non-religious who allow it. Hitchens criticized the “belief in belief” that many atheists hold that allows them to forgive the bizarre antics of the religious. I recently watched a TED talk by Dawkins where he advocated for “militant atheism.” The first time he used the phrase, the audience chuckled, until they realized he was very serious. Militant action is not limited to physical war; there is a very political side to it. I would never propose all atheists take up arms against our enemies – that would just be stooping to their level. But I do believe it is the responsibility of those enlightened by reason to spread that message just as persistently as missionaries do.

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