Religious Freedom A Major Health Hazard

https://twitter.com/lamula

pic: the mule

The Trump administration – spurred on by the Alliance Defending Freedom – wants to hand religious medical professionals the right to refuse treatment in the name of ‘religious freedom’. Our newest Australian PM is promising to prioritise legislation to extend ‘religious freedom’ here.

  • This could be disastrous for all LGBTI people, especially trans people, giving ‘religious’ hospitals, clinics and medical professionals the right to refuse to treat people with whose ‘lifestyles’ they disagree.
  • Religion is already responsible for many abortions – by blocking full and guilt free access to contraception and sex education – while at the same time condemning the women who access abortion services.
  • It denies children essential information to help them grow up, and to protect themselves. Religious squeamishness is the principal barrier to proper sex and relationships in schools: our new Pentacostal PM described it as “skin curling”.

Real health hazards arise from the practice of “religious freedom”. Giving mumbo-jumbo – from whatever religion – precedence over scientific facts, causes death, sickness and injury, especially if you’re LGBTI, female, or a child.

CHRISTIAN SCIENTISTS

Adherents of Christian Science believe that illness is the result of an imperfect connection with Jesus, which can be corrected through prayer. Medical treatment is frowned upon, but not outright banned. That hasn’t stopped dozens of Christian Scientists preferring to face legal prosecution, or even death, rather than consult a medical professional.

The much-loved and quintessentially English comedienne Joyce Grenfell, a staunch Christian Scientist, refused treatment when she developed cancer of the eye, until it was too late, and the disease had spread to her spine.

Christian Science nursing homes and hospices generally don’t permit the use of medical interventions of any kind, including pain relief. Consequently mortality rates are higher among Christian Scientists than those using conventional medicine.

Children are often sacrificed on the altar of their parent’s beliefs. Rita Swan of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) has documented  deaths of children in Christian Science families due to:

“… meningitis, diabetes, diphtheria, measles, kidney infection, septicemia, cancer, and appendicitis. She has found outbreaks of polio and measles at Christian Science camps and schools; she has interviewed adults who, because of diseases and injuries that went untreated during childhood, became profoundly deaf, or lame, or suffered permanent organ damage.”

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

The 6m strong worldwide Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) teach that blood transfusions, even if needed to save a person’s life, must not be accepted. An adult Jehovah’s Witness who willingly and knowingly accepts a blood transfusion is  committing a sin and might forfeit his or her eternal life.

This makes it especially hazardous to be a woman. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that pregnant women who are Jehovah’s witnesses are six times more likely to die, three times more likely to have serious complications than average, and have a 130 fold increased risk of death from major obstetric haemorrhage.

Abused children are basically told the leave it up to God to take action. Proof that an offence has occurred requires either:

  • A confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or
  • The testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case of abuse, or
  • The testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse.

If proof cannot be obtained, elders are to explain to the accuser that nothing more can be done…the congregation will continue to view the one accused as an innocent person. The question of his guilt or innocence can be safely left in Jehovah’s hands.

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

I can’t think of child abuse without immediately thinking of Roman Catholicism. Not great shakes for child health here, either, with a devastating trail of clerical child abuse cases and subsequent misery and suicide. Many many more still being uncovered. Nor we can have any confidence that cases are not still occurring, due to the clergy’s refusal to report confessions of abuse to the secular authorities, and the absence of any clear action on the part of the hierarchy – beyond trying to blame it all on gay priests.

Adults don’t do too well under Roman Catholicism either, especially in the developing world, where the church campaigns against the provision of condoms and spreads the lie that they don’t protect against AIDS. Stephen Fry nails it.

The church – in common with the rest of the more fanatical Christian sects – is also vehemently against abortion – something that wouldn’t be necessary nearly so often if all of them could manage a grown-up attitude to sex-education and contraception.

Women in Roman Catholic hospitals are routinely denied proper healthcare if it might involve anything that might even look like an abortion, or curtail their fertility.

The Trump administration is poised to hand religious conservatives another victory: a slew of new federal rules that would give religious health care providers wide latitude to refuse to treat patients or perform procedures if doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS

Evangelicals, or as I like to call them, Christaliban, like our new PM, claim depression and schizophrenia are demons that can be cast out. Perth-based Set Right notes that depression is a “common low ranking demon” while schizophrenia is “another demon we have met often and evicted”.

The Australian Medical Association dismisses that view as unscientific and potentially harmful. Dr Choong-Siew Yong, a practising psychiatrist who represents psychiatry on the AMA’s Federal Council said he was concerned about untrained practitioners making claims that contradict the science. He warned that claiming someone was possessed could reinforce their delusions and stop them getting proper care.

The Catholic Church has also warned of an increase in possessions and the need for exorcisms, with some priests blaming popular culture series such as Twilight and Harry Potter.

Mercy Ministries, an offshoot of Hillsong Church financed in part by Gloria Jeans Coffees was forced to close down after it was revealed it ‘treated’ mentally disturbed women in its care, including anorexics, with exorcisms rather than referring them for medical help.

SCIENTOLOGY

One hardly need bother listing Scientology, so I will refer to “this marriage bureau for gay Hollywood stars needing pretty young wives as cover” only briefly. One of the basic tenets of Scientology is that mental disease does not exist. “Followers are not allowed to seek treatment for mental or emotional issues,” said Scrape TV Religion analyst Bertram Gas.

John Travolta’s son Jett, who died following a seizure, suffered from Autism, for which Scientology will not allow treatment. Faced with criticism over this, the Church has reportedly now disallowed medical treatment of any kind for its followers, which at least will help them die out sooner.

Scientology operates a subsidiary whose sole aim is to discredit and dismantle the field of psychiatry, the “Citizens Commission on Human Rights”.

ISLAM

Women don’t do too well under Islam, largely because of the idiotic rules governing the segregation of the sexes. Male medical practitioners may not be alone with female patients, and often don’t examine them directly, use dolls or asking the woman to point at the site of the pain. I culled the following from several Islamic advice sites:

“Male doctors who are not close relatives are not permitted to look at women or to touch them, except in specific situations.

  • If it is possible to diagnose and treat the illness by merely listening to something, it is not permissible for him to look at or touch the female patient.
  • If it possible for him to diagnose and treat the illness by merely looking at the female patient, it is not permissible for him to touch her.
  • He may only look at or touch the areas whose observation or touch is needed to diagnose or treat the illness.
  • His looking and touching must be free of any desire whatsoever.
  • He must ensure that he avoids being in impermissible seclusion (khalwa) with the female patient: this is dangerous enough when the female doesn’t reveal the parts of her body that are impermissible for him to look at, so how should it be when she reveals such parts of her body for him to look at or even touch! He should therefore make sure that the room’s door is open or that another woman (such as the secretary) is present with them.

“All of the above rulings also apply to a Muslim female who visits a male doctor whenever it is permissible for her to do so (in other words, she may only allow the doctor to look at or to touch what is needed in order to diagnose and treat the illness).”

The net effect is to delay accurate diagnosis and proper treatments of women’s complaints: the plus side is, Islam encourages the training of female doctors to help ease this problem. But a woman doctor can’t treat a man except when there is no male doctor available, or if the matter cannot be delayed as in the case of accidents.

HINDUISM

Hinduism seems reasonably benign, though there are some odd ideas about conception. In vitro fertilisation is only allowed when the egg and sperm belong to the couple in question. Using a sperm bank or sperm from any living person other than the husband amounts to “bearing a child outside holy wedlock”, and is considered adultery. Abortion is a non-no, except to save the life of the mother, even if the foetus is potentially deformed or likely to be mentally impaired.

AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIAN LOBBY

The Australian Christian Lobby says homosexuality is bad for your health, so we should all come with a health warning. Jim Wallace, the former front man, claimed that gays and lesbians die 20 years sooner that upright godfearing folk like him – a lie taken straight from the propaganda put about by countless American “Christian” anti-LGBTI groups. Crikey concluded the idea was “mostly rubbish,” while Chrys Stevenson painstakingly traced the sources and found they were just plain wrong.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM = DEATH

In short, it is no exaggeration to say that prioritising the ‘religious freedom’ of a few cuts short lives, and forces others to live and die in pain and misery. Far from needing more of it, we need less.

[Originally published as Toxic Religion: revised and updated]

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)