Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

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Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Tue Oct 18, 2011 1:42 pm

Church HIV prayer cure claims 'cause three deaths'

By Andy Dangerfield

BBC News, London

At least three people in London with HIV have died after they stopped taking life saving drugs on the advice of their Evangelical Christian pastors.

The women died after attending churches in London where they were encouraged to stop taking the antiretroviral drugs in the belief that God would heal them, their friends and a leading HIV doctor said.

Responding to the BBC London investigation, Lord Fowler, the former health minister responsible for the famous Aids awareness campaign of the 1980s, condemned the practice. "It's just wrong, bad advice that should be confronted," said the Tory peer, who chaired last month's House of Lords committee into HIV.

Jane Iwu, 48, from Newham, east London, described one case, saying: "I know of a friend who had been to a pastor. She told her to stop taking her medication - that God is a healer and has healed her. This lady believed it. She stopped taking her medication. She passed away," said Ms Iwu, who has HIV herself.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby NH Baritone » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:50 pm

Those who accept medical advice from non-medical professionals have to share the burden of the consequences.

I fail to understand how you could target specifically religious woo peddlers for retribution. Aunt Mildred or Grandpa Philo may be just as poorly qualified to dispense health information as Revs. Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn.

And there exist at least as many talisman manufacturers, vitamin salesmen, chiropractors, acupuncturists, Reiki practitioners, reflexologists, etc., who, without reference to religion, tout equally unjustified claims of healing.

Health-care consumers have readily available information resources to verify efficacy, safety, and reliability of the treatment options. More, better, and earlier training in critical thinking are probably the best defense against the dangers of wishful thinking & superstition.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Wed Oct 19, 2011 8:57 pm

NH Baritone wrote:I fail to understand how you could target specifically religious woo peddlers for retribution.


Here's why I asked it the way I did: I want to know if religions should be held culpable.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Pseudonym » Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:40 pm

Keep The Reason wrote:Here's why I asked it the way I did: I want to know if religions should be held culpable.

Did you mean the specific organisations who dispensed the quack advice, or "religions" as a general concept?

There are laws in most places against giving medical advice which is false or misleading, or if you are not qualified to give it. This is, IIRC, the case in the UK. There may be a case here, and if there is, then the crown prosecutors should certainly pursue it. It is very wrong when unqualified people give bad medical advice, and if these churches have broken the law, they should be prosecuted. If they haven't, then perhaps the law should be tightened up.

I have one slight reservation in this case which, I should point out, has exactly nothing to do with the fact that it was a church giving them bad advice. When you get down to it, these three people were killed by an incurable terminal illness. Legally competent adults with incurable terminal illnesses are allowed to refuse treatment if they want to, for whatever reason.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:57 pm

Pseudonym wrote:Did you mean the specific organisations who dispensed the quack advice, or "religions" as a general concept?


I would say any religion that pretends to know something it cannot demonstrate it knows, like "God will heal you". That is not a demonstrable claim, hence it is quack advice from a non-medical individual.

There are laws in most places against giving medical advice which is false or misleading, or if you are not qualified to give it. This is, IIRC, the case in the UK. There may be a case here, and if there is, then the crown prosecutors should certainly pursue it. It is very wrong when unqualified people give bad medical advice, and if these churches have broken the law, they should be prosecuted. If they haven't, then perhaps the law should be tightened up.


I would say being told, "Don't take your medicine because god will heal you" is, in my mind, an unsupported claim that causes egregious harm in most cases (we can't say all except, I suppose, in cases of amputees, an affliction where god NEVER intervenes and makes the limb reappear).

I have one slight reservation in this case which, I should point out, has exactly nothing to do with the fact that it was a church giving them bad advice. When you get down to it, these three people were killed by an incurable terminal illness. Legally competent adults with incurable terminal illnesses are allowed to refuse treatment if they want to, for whatever reason.


There are drug treatments that forestall this inevitability, and they were specifically advised to drop those treatments. I don't see these people as simply deciding not to take the medical treatment as their own choice; rather, they are told by who they consider to be authority figures in whom they trusted to stop it.

I think the only solution to this is, "You can give such advice if you want, and adults are free to take it, but we're free to prosecute you for it when they die taking your advice." Not the best solution perhaps, better than letting these irresponsible imbeciles destroy more lives.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Pseudonym » Sun Oct 23, 2011 11:54 pm

Keep The Reason wrote:I would say any religion that pretends to know something it cannot demonstrate it knows, like "God will heal you". That is not a demonstrable claim, hence it is quack advice from a non-medical individual.

Does it have to be a religion, or will anyone do?

That a claim must be demonstrable is a tall order sometimes. Questions of ethics, for example, are rarely amenable to evidence. Suppose a church (or even a secular organisation) says to a woman words to the effect of, "don't have an abortion, that's morally wrong; besides, we have a really good adoption agency and we can place your baby with a good family who can't have one of their own". That abortion is morally wrong is not a demonstrable claim, but neither is the claim that it's morally okay under the right circumstances. This borders on medical advice, but for some reason, I have less of a problem with this example.

Keep The Reason wrote:I would say being told, "Don't take your medicine because god will heal you" is, in my mind, an unsupported claim that causes egregious harm in most cases [...]

I tend to agree, but I'm not sure where the line is drawn legally, or where it should be drawn. Certainly, singling out religion or religious organisations for special treatment would be a gross violation of the separation of church and state.

Keep The Reason wrote:There are drug treatments that forestall this inevitability, and they were specifically advised to drop those treatments.

For about half of the patients, current treatments result in a pretty good quality of life. For the other half, prognosis is not so good. The best-quality treatments of today can have notoriously horrid side-effects.

Once again, it's difficult to say where to draw the line. If someone is facing incurable cancer, and considering whether or not to continue treatment knowing that it will prolong their life by maybe 5 years with a high risk of nasty side-effects, would it be so wrong for a counsellor to point out that it's okay to refuse treatment? I don't think so. Yes, there are probably differences between the two cases, but distinguishing between them is legally difficult.

Keep The Reason wrote:I don't see these people as simply deciding not to take the medical treatment as their own choice; rather, they are told by who they consider to be authority figures in whom they trusted to stop it.

That is far from clear going from the write-up. You seem to have this idea that thy were "told" by an "authority figure". Admittedly, there is one piece of heresay evidence (the last quote) to support this in one out of the three cases. The actual social dynamics in the church might be quite different. It could be more like a community peer group encouraging the person to stop treatment, which is quite different from a decree from on high.

Again, we don't have all the information.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Mon Oct 24, 2011 10:30 am

Pseudonym wrote:Does it have to be a religion, or will anyone do?


Well, there are already laws against people simply setting up shop to give out medical advice. If I casually tell someone, "Shit, I would only take Tylenol" and someone does so and dies, I'm not setting myself up as an authority. Religious hierarchies like this set themselves up as authorities, and therein lies the difference. your Aunt Tilly telling you enemas are good for you is one thing, your religious leader telling you "god doesn't want you to do this on pain of Hellfire" is quite another.

That a claim must be demonstrable is a tall order sometimes. Questions of ethics, for example, are rarely amenable to evidence. Suppose a church (or even a secular organisation) says to a woman words to the effect of, "don't have an abortion, that's morally wrong; besides, we have a really good adoption agency and we can place your baby with a good family who can't have one of their own". That abortion is morally wrong is not a demonstrable claim, but neither is the claim that it's morally okay under the right circumstances. This borders on medical advice, but for some reason, I have less of a problem with this example.


Obviously because the life of the mother in terms of the intent of the advice is not in question. Sure, the mother could die in childbirth, but the advice given wasn't "don't have an abortion even if it might kill you to have the child". There is nuance here, and the argument is, If an authoritative institution or person makes a claim outside their area of expertise, should they be held accountable. For the record, every time you offer an example of someone casually giving their opinion, you've broken out of the model here. Casual opinion is not authoritative counsel; and these religious models approach it as if they are authoritative.

I tend to agree, but I'm not sure where the line is drawn legally, or where it should be drawn. Certainly, singling out religion or religious organisations for special treatment would be a gross violation of the separation of church and state.


But we already have laws against people doing this -- EXCEPT the religious organizations. You or I could not set up shop with no licensing and not schooling and start doling out medical advise. We would be arrested, rightfully so. My local Lexus dealer cannot do so either. Nor can the local grocery store bagger or checkout person.

Religions, however, do this whenever they please, and seem fully protected from any and all consequence. Religions are being afforded a special dispensation.

Once again, it's difficult to say where to draw the line. If someone is facing incurable cancer, and considering whether or not to continue treatment knowing that it will prolong their life by maybe 5 years with a high risk of nasty side-effects, would it be so wrong for a counsellor to point out that it's okay to refuse treatment? I don't think so. Yes, there are probably differences between the two cases, but distinguishing between them is legally difficult.


Yes. It's difficult to know where to draw the line. Hence the topic and discussion.

That is far from clear going from the write-up. You seem to have this idea that thy were "told" by an "authority figure". Admittedly, there is one piece of heresay evidence (the last quote) to support this in one out of the three cases. The actual social dynamics in the church might be quite different. It could be more like a community peer group encouraging the person to stop treatment, which is quite different from a decree from on high.


I would say the community peer group, if condoned by the church, has the same force of authority. But let's say we don't use this particular example. We do have enough information to recognize that religions are not accredited medical institutions, and therefore should they be held accountable if they give medical advice that causes harm? (And no matter what, saying, "Don't take your medicine" whether delivered under the guise of spiritual counseling or not is still medical advice).
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Rian » Mon Oct 24, 2011 2:20 pm

Well, people can talk about religions/religious figures as being authority figures, but it's the person's choice who they take as an authority.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Mon Oct 24, 2011 3:33 pm

Rian wrote:Well, people can talk about religions/religious figures as being authority figures, but it's the person's choice who they take as an authority.


Not if they were raised from birth to believe that authority figure is an authority figure.

I wonder what your position on this is regarding child abusing priests? Hey, people choose to make those priests authority figures, so caveat emptor, eh? And by "people" I mean the adults that have taught their kids to respect the preists' authority, not just the children making that choice for themselves.

Should we hold these priests accountable?
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Pseudonym » Mon Oct 24, 2011 4:02 pm

Keep The Reason wrote:But we already have laws against people doing this -- EXCEPT the religious organizations.

Sorry, I don't follow. So-called "faith healers" or "exorcists" can and have been prosecuted fairly recently, both in the US and the UK.

Keep The Reason wrote:I would say the community peer group, if condoned by the church, has the same force of authority.

Maybe. I suspect it would depend on the details.

Keep The Reason wrote:We do have enough information to recognize that religions are not accredited medical institutions, and therefore should they be held accountable if they give medical advice that causes harm?

I partly agree with the first part. There are a lot of church-run hospitals, medical clinics, counselling services etc around. The vast majority know to keep the medical advice limited to the experts. Once again, details matter.

Keep The Reason wrote:I wonder what your position on this is regarding child abusing priests?

I'm not Rian, but my position is that this is a false analogy. Child abuse is a crime. It's not clear that what this church did is a crime, though I think we agree that if it isn't, it would be worth investigating the current law to see if it's adequate.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Mon Oct 24, 2011 4:43 pm

Pseudonym wrote:Sorry, I don't follow. So-called "faith healers" or "exorcists" can and have been prosecuted fairly recently, both in the US and the UK.


It depends on who you are talking about. Pat Robertson has been on TV every night for years saying "There's a lady in Pittsburgh -- her diabetes is now healed and you needn't take your medicine any more." That never gets prosecuted. Who knows how many exorcisms have taken place without any consequence to the participants? And faith healers get away with it here on a daily basis. About the only time it gets prosecuted that I'm aware of is when Christian Scientists refuse medical aid for their children and the children die. And invariably, you hear about how "prosecuting the parents who have already lost their child is more than enough punishment". Religious circumstances often just get a "pass".

'm not Rian, but my position is that this is a false analogy. Child abuse is a crime. It's not clear that what this church did is a crime, though I think we agree that if it isn't, it would be worth investigating the current law to see if it's adequate.


Dispensing medical advice without proper credentials is a crime as well. However, I was comparing the impact of being raised thinking of someone as an authority figure. Even adults are not making a truly free choice if they are raised from childhood believing in the authority of something or someone. If you are raised to believe Father Joe is the final authority on your life, and Father Joe says, "Stop taking your medicine" (or he begins abusing you and tells you not to tell anyone) -- you haven't made a choice based on freedom but on inculcation. The question is, what is Father's Joe's culpability here if you should die?
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby NH Baritone » Tue Oct 25, 2011 3:21 am

The recent biography of Steve Jobs suggests that his early rejection of chemotherapy and surgery (in favor of a variety of naturopathic herbs and spices) may have allowed his perhaps curable pancreatic cancer to spread too far and become non-curable.

In other words, his delay in entering genuine treatment may have killed him.

Should we nominate him for the Darwin award?

Or instead would you advocate seeking out those who told him of those "holistic, natural" treatments for prosecution and imprisonment? What if it was nothing more than an internet discussion forum?
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:10 am

NH Baritone wrote:Or instead would you advocate seeking out those who told him of those "holistic, natural" treatments for prosecution and imprisonment? What if it was nothing more than an internet discussion forum?


Well, it might help if you read my previous replies to this question, no? If he were given casual advice by people who thought that was a better way to go, that's one thing. But if he were under the impression that those who advised him were some kind of authority on the matter, then there should be an investigation.

If I go to the bar with my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and tell my buddy about it and he says, "You should look into holistic solutions" that's one thing. If I go to someone who sets themselves up as an authority on the matter, and they insist that holistic is the ONLY way to go, that's another thing entirely.

But, I've already explained this, haven't I?
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Pseudonym » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:33 pm

Keep The Reason wrote:Pat Robertson has been on TV every night for years saying "There's a lady in Pittsburgh -- her diabetes is now healed and you needn't take your medicine any more." That never gets prosecuted.

Oh, he should definitely be prosecuted. I don't care what charge, just do it on principle.

Keep The Reason wrote:Who knows how many exorcisms have taken place without any consequence to the participants?

Good question. I don't know. Looking on whatstheharm.net reveals over 1000 cases of harm due to exorcisms in modern times. (Sometimes they define "harm" loosely, but a brief scan only of the list of exorcisms they have reveals only one or two that seem like a mildly dubious call on their part.)

Keep The Reason wrote:And faith healers get away with it here on a daily basis. About the only time it gets prosecuted that I'm aware of is when Christian Scientists refuse medical aid for their children and the children die. And invariably, you hear about how "prosecuting the parents who have already lost their child is more than enough punishment". Religious circumstances often just get a "pass".

Hang on, homeopaths get a "pass" too. Religion doesn't seem to be the distinguishing factor as to whether or not you get a "pass". It sounds to me more who gets a pass and who doesn't largely depends on how much provable harm can be directly blamed on the quack.
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Re: Medical Advice from Religions -- Free from Consequence?

Postby Keep The Reason » Tue Oct 25, 2011 9:46 pm

Hang on, homeopaths get a "pass" too. Religion doesn't seem to be the distinguishing factor as to whether or not you get a "pass". It sounds to me more who gets a pass and who doesn't largely depends on how much provable harm can be directly blamed on the quack.


I don't necessarily disagree but what I was asking about was specifically religion. That doesn't mean <insert litany of cranks here> don't qualify as well.
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