Northwest US fights against alt-med

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 24 2011 11:56 AM

Northwest US fights against alt-med

Two bits of anti-medicine news, both from the United States northwest, and both dealing with difficult situations:

1) In Oregon, lawmakers are making it harder for people to use religion as an excuse to avoid medical treatment. The Followers of Christ, a fringe Christian group, advocates faith healing and not standard medicine, and as a result several children in that group have died in recent years. Because of this, a bill has been introduced into the Oregon state legislature to remove religious belief as a defense against homicide. If convicted, a parent whose child has died because they used faith healing instead of real medicine will be charged with homicide and have a mandatory sentence.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


Stories like this always leave me conflicted. As a parent myself I always want the best possible medical treatment for my child, and I don't want other groups interfering with that decision. However, the State has a right to protect the best interests of that child in case the parent cannot. Decades worth of evidence has shown that faith healing does not work, and in many cases the children in the Followers of Christ church had easily treatable illnesses and needn't have died.

In the end, the right thing to do is save that sick child. If the parent cannot, then the greater society has the responsibility to do that.

This opens a can of worms, I know. Can you make a case about mental abuse by fringe cults? What about stunting their education? There are plenty of other arguments to be made here, but in this case we're talking physical health, and while I may not like the idea of a government using in loco parentis powers, sometimes it's necessary.

As I've said before, "In this country, we have a right to believe what we want. I agree with that idea. However, we do not have the right to necessarily act on those beliefs."

Tip o' the gavel to Fark.

2) A doctor in Washington state is denying medical care to patients who are unvaccinated.

This one is a little more difficult in my opinion, as it seems to me that doctors should always give care to those who need it, no matter what incredibly bad decisions those people have made medically. But, the big difference here is that unvaccinated people put others at risk, including babies, who can die from diseases that are otherwise preventable. I am not a doctor, so I don't know the legal ramifications here, but I do know that this case is poised to get very muddled. The link above goes to an interview with the doctor, and in the name of "balance" they also got a quote from the notorious antivax shill Barbara Loe Fischer, who gave this whopper with a straight face:

And [doctors] need to have a civil, rational conversation with parents, and not be bullying and threatening them.

Doctors have a duty to protect their patients, even if it means protection from other patients. Vaccination is a choice, but in almost all cases an obvious one. People who choose not to vaccinate generally make that choice for the wrong reasons, and if nothing else, I hope this doctor's story helps get the word out.

I'd like to see reasoned comments below from care providers who are more familiar with this type of thing than I am. I find myself wrestling with this topic (and the one in the first half of this post), so more information is welcome.

Tip o' the syringe to Martha Hoidal.

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