The parents of a 13-year-old boy in Minnesota are refusing medical treatment on behalf of their son (diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and have been ordered to allow the boy to undergo chemotherapy for a tumor that is 90% curable, and without treatment is almost always lethal. Their refusal to provide medical care is unrelated to the boy’s discomfort with chemotherapy, which is no joke, and can be excruciating. At least, the parents have yet to mention their concerns about the side effects. No, their main concern is that they have not given alternative therapies a chance; herbal supplements, vitamins, ionized water, and lots of green vegetables are sure to selectively attack the lymphocytes unique to this hematologic cancer. More importantly, the parents are Roman Catholic and are adherents to the Nemenhah Band of Minnesota, a religious group that believes in the natural healing methods used by some Native Americans. As their attorney put it:
“The Hausers believe that the injection of chemotherapy into Danny Hauser amounts to an assault upon his body, and torture when it occurs over a long period of time. They believe that it is against the spiritual law to invade the consciousness of another person without their permission.”
I will quote that the next time a policeman attempts a cavity search on me. There is a news headline about once or twice per year about a family declining allopathic (translation: medicine that works) medical care for their children with either death or injury as a result. The reason is generally religious, though their motives are clouded by delusions of absolute personal freedom and fear of Big Government. Last year, a couple watched their daughter die of diabetic ketoacidosis, which involves intense pain, vomiting, and suffering. They prayed a great deal during this time, feeling that if God were indeed great, then their loved one would be saved. Eventually they yielded their faith and brought her to a sinful ER, where she died of an overwhelming infection. When asked about an autopsy, they assured the ER staff that the cause of death didn’t matter, since “In the morning, she will be alive.”
The case reminds me of ‘Doctor Beetroot’, the former health minister of South Africa, Manto Tshabalala Msimang, who implored the 5.5 million HIV infected people of her nation to cure their infection with garlic and potatoes. She was ridiculed on an international level for what was either catastrophic ignorance or deeply cynical negligence, but at least there was little doubt that she was on the wrong side. Yet in a nation that is almost obnoxious about the high quality of health care provided within its borders, alternative medicine and faith healing has a large following and an industry of ineffective herbal medicines that is valued at US$4.8 billion in 2007. So where are the jeers at treatments so ‘effective’ that clinical trials are never even attempted? And what compels people to waste such a vast sum of money? I hope to fuck that fear drives it all, because the alternative is more frightening. They cannot all be as blind and reckless as the parents of the child with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
These people are true believers, in that they feel the concept of God and the principle of faith has some merit. At least they have more faith than the half-hearted charlatans like Michele Bachmann, James Dobson, or John Hagee, who prattle endlessly about the need to follow God. This generally means the people should do as they say while they fleece the masses and make the world significantly more fucked than they found it. Deep down, though, this is not about any love of God, but a testing of the principle – is the power of faith worth anything? The best way to find out is to watch your child die whilst praying, since children are easily replaceable and it is no skin off your neck if God turns out to be an asshole. These impossibly thick fucks likely had their faith reinforced when their cold or those nagging herpetic anal sores went away… with prayer! That they need no understanding of how this works is a testament to the utter lack of curiosity that comes with true religious belief. Fair enough, though I do have a grudging respect for their willingness to back their daffy beliefs with all they value.
The single greatest medical development is not penicillin, the vaccine, or prostatic massage; it is the advent of evidence-based medicine (EBM), whereby all treatments are subjected to trials, preferably randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trials, before it can be believed that such treatments have any effect. Some interventions have been used for decades before EBM proved they were useless or even harmful (hormone-replacement therapy, respirations during CPR), but they were used out of a belief that they should work. Call it a gut feeling, or a matter of faith. Such is the way of science, that anything worth believing should be understood. EBM even gives prayer a chance, with several trials in the past ten years centering on whether a patient’s belief that a group of priests are praying for them will improve their survival. Every last study either claimed a benefit despite laughably small numbers (and a large ‘p’ value indicating statistical insignificance) or noted the only benefit was in the patient’s comfort – if they are religious anyway. Most likely additional trials comparing antibiotics to broccoli for treating meningitis are in the works. That such resources are being wasted on attempts to detect and harness the paranormal is staggering, but this is the dispassionate nature of EBM – everything is considered before the trash is relegated to the bin. And once that shit goes in the bin, for fuck’s sake, act like a biped and leave it there.
EBM has little use for those who practice faith healing. More to the point, they would feel proof via a trial violates the principle of faith, and shun any attempt to understand. This is more than a rejection of interventions that have been proven to work – it is a repudiation of intellect. To renounce one of the few useful tools that mankind has ever evolved to aid one’s survival requires a childlike naiveté, but such desire for understanding requires one to have evolved in the first place. This applies not only to the radicals who pray fervently and urge their child to chase the appendicitis away with bay leaves, but also to the nutmeats who watch The Secret and expect a change in their lives, or those who sense a ‘oneness’ with the universe or whatever. Usually intelligent people will indulge these asshats, but it is up to these people to stamp this shit out before it spreads any further. That teenager in Minnesota is not the only one with cancer – our collective intelligence is shitting blood, and flushing without a second thought.