||"All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to demons; chiefly do they torment freshly-baptized Christians,
yea, even the guiltless new-born infants." Saint Augustine (354-430 CE)
||"The right to practice religion freely does not include the right
to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the
latter to ill-health or death… Parents may be free to become martyrs
themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical
circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they can make
that choice for themselves." Prince v. Massachusetts, U.S. Supreme
||"When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the
way. If you only believe in it part way, it's not a true belief."
Roger Winterbourne. Five of his children died of pneumonia between 1971
and 1980 without receiving medical attention.
Until about 1920, medical knowledge was so primitive that attending a
physician probably harmed more people than were helped. Medical successes
following World War I convinced many people in North America to seek help from a
physician for illness, rather than try folk remedies or prayer.
Until the 1960s most conflicts in which parents refused medical treatment
||Christian Scientists who deny the existence of disease, and have set
up a parallel system of treatment using Christian Science practitioners.
||Jehovah's witnesses who refuse to accept blood transfusions.
J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American
Religion, was interviewed on this topic by ABC News during 2002-OCT. He said
that since the 1960s, there have been increasing numbers of members of other
denominations who have been charged with crimes for turning to prayer rather
than medicine for their kids. 1 These are often members of
Charismatic Christian groups. They emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit and
point to certain scriptures, notably from Acts and Paul's epistles. Being from
conservative Christian denominations, many believe that
God inspired the authors of the bible to write text that is free of errors
-- inerrant. Certain texts in the Bible promise
healing to believers who pray, or go through certain rituals. They are driven by
their religious beliefs to trust prayer -- perhaps in place of medical
Some devout believers favor pursuing prayer instead of seeking medical assistance
when they are ill.
This can become a major concern for child protective services when parents
refuse to have their children treated for routine health problems that can
prove fatal without medical intervention. Resorting to prayer in the place
of medical treatment also become a
matter of social concern when death rates among certain religious groups
greatly exceed the average for the rest of society.
Studies of the effectiveness of prayer for healing:
There exists a wide variety of opinions about the effectiveness of
prayer in North America:
||Most Christians, Jews,
Muslims and other theists, ditheists and
polytheists naturally resort to
prayer when they learn that they, a family member, or friend
is ill or injured.
||Strong Atheists, who deny the existence of
God, generally reject the effectiveness of prayer. Without a God to pray
to, they feel that prayer doesn't make a lot of sense.
Humanists, Ethical Culturalists, and other secularists, who have no
concept of deity, generally agree with strong Atheists.
||Most Agnostics, who are undecided about the
existence of God, do as well.
||So do most Deists who believe that God created
the universe, left, and hasn't been seen since. An absent God who has
abandoned the universe is not likely to respond to individual prayer.
Dozens of small-scale studies have been conducted into
the effectiveness of individual prayer. They have produced mixed results. Many have
often been criticized for poor design that may have biased the results in
a positive direction. The first
truly reliable, large-scale, double blind study was only published in the Fall of 2003. It
found that prayer had no influence on patients' recovery.
Some conservative clergy have become prominent faith healers. Although
their religious services are impressive, follow-up studies indicate that few
or no cures or permanent improvements have occurred among their audience.
Most of this web site simply describes both or all viewpoints on each topic.
However, in rare instances like this one, the stakes are so high that we are
moved to make a solid recommendation.
Individuals with serious physical health problems can seek cures from many
||Through conventional medical treatment by a licensed physician.
||Through Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
These treatments ranging from shark cartilage to " 'miracle' products
sold through 'back-of-the-magazine' ads and TV infomercials." 2
||Using prayer within their own faith group.
||Attending a faith-healing service.
||With the spiritual support of a Christian Science practitioner.
We strongly urge that anyone suffering from a disease or disorder use prayer only
to back up some reliable form of treatment that has been shown to be both safe and effective
-- as evidenced
by double-blind studies reported in peer-reviewed journals. This often restricts
their options to standard medical procedures. If you find this unacceptable,
then we suggest that you take a walk through a private cemetery owned by one of
the few conservative Protestant groups who tell their followers to avoid medical
help. Observe the large percentage of stones over the graves of infants, and the
large percentage of 30 and 40 year olds who are buried there decades before they
should have died.
Perhaps the future will see more religious groups adopting policies similar
to those of the Church of Scientology. They have a
auditing process to promote spiritual growth. Sometimes, an unexpected byproduct
of auditing are physical improvements. However, if a person comes to auditing
with a physical illness, they are required to have their problem examined by a physician.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"No Cure for Cancer: Tenn. Mom, Preacher Accused of Letting Girl Die by Turning to God," ABCNews.com, 2002-OCT-3,
Associated Press article, "Parents charged over wasp death," 1999-MAY-10
Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-JAN-14
Latest update: 2007-JAN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson