When Religion and Medicine Clash
In multicultural societies, religious conflicts can be common. Canadian news headlines are replete with reports of opposite ideologies or needs colliding. We may think of a law such as Quebec’s Bill 62 that forbids wearing certain face and head veils when receiving public services. However, another recent story proves that these incidents can be more than just a clash of beliefs. In some extreme cases, religious views can pose a distinct danger to personal health and safety. An example of this would be when medicine is denied to a child.
An Unusual Child Custody Case
A June 2018 National Post article revealed some disturbing details that surfaced during a child custody case in British Columbia. Post writer Adrian Humphreys reported that the couple in question contested a Provincial Court order that removed their daughter from their home, claiming that they’d been discriminated against because they were Christians.
However, investigations revealed that their religious views had caused them to be banned from attending several local churches. To make matters worse, they did not vaccinate the child or allow her any access to medicine. The proverbial nail in the coffin was their refusal to accept legal help, then bringing a stuffed lion to hearings and claiming that Jesus Christ would advocate on their behalf by speaking through the lion.
Religious Stances on Medical Care
The National Post piece documents an unusual case of harm caused by extreme religious views. Nevertheless, a few other groups have adopted controversial stances concerning modern medicine. A February 2018 CNN piece mentions the backlash that American televangelist Gloria Copeland received when, during a broadcast, she directed listeners to “inoculate [themselves] with the word of God” instead of getting flu shots. Meanwhile, Sandee LaMotte points out that Copeland isn’t the first religious figure to decry certain forms of medicine. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses will not receive blood transfusions, and the Amish generally forbid heart transplants since they regard the organ as “the soul of the body.”
Faith Healing Controversies
The most well-known opposition to medical treatments lies within the Christian Science denomination, established by Mary Baker Eddy during the late 1800s in the United States. In her 1875 text “Science and Health,” Eddy proposed that illness was an illusion, and that believers could end it through prayer alone. Referred to as “spiritual healing,” this belief has been one major cause of the controversies faced by the movement. It’s gained media attention thanks to several troubling incidents over the last 30 years:
- Several outbreaks of measles between 1985 and 1994 at Principia College, a predominantly Christian Science institution in Illinois
- The death of a two-year-old Massachusetts boy from a treatable bowel obstruction in 1986
- An 11-year-old Minnesota boy who died in 1989 due to complications from untreated type 1 diabetes
While Christian Science’s current official stance doesn’t forbid followers from seeking treatment, it still focuses on what it sees as the importance of prayer in healing and encourages members to request prayers from Christian Science practitioners. In the meantime, children with parents in other faith healing groups have died under similar circumstances. A May 2016 CBC News article discussed the case of Alex Radita, a Calgary teenager who died from malnutrition because his parents attempted to treat his type 1 diabetes through prayer instead of caring for him with medicine as prescribed by doctors.
Freedom of Religion Versus Health and Safety?
Although it’s easy to believe that clashes between religion and medicine are a purely American phenomenon, the tragic case of Alex Radita and the unusual custody case documented in the June 2018 National Post article both prove that Canadians aren’t immune to these issues. As the religious landscape of our country changes, it is up to policymakers, religious leaders, and society to determine how to strike a fair balance between religious liberty and matters of life and death.