Writing Prompts: Faith Healing, Parenting, and Neglect

Inspired by an old debate on this subject (I figured old posts could be useful prompts), I thought I’d look at the world of faith healing, and whether or not there is any merit to the idea.

Faith healing has existed in some form or another since antiquity. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians are among many cultures to have practiced faith healing, and the story of Jesus healing the sick in the Bible is a famous one. However, does the practice have any validity behind it?

This is where matters become murky. Faith healers don’t tend to keep vigorous records. The evidence that faith healing should be seen as a viable alternative to conventional medical practices is dubious. There are plenty of people who believe faith healing works, and there might be some sort of placebo effect at work, there is also evidence that some of the tools used by faith healers can do more harm than good.

A lot of the time, faith healing is sought in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, for the benefit of the patient’s emotional and mental state, and I for one have no problem with that. I have no problem with adults seeking to use faith healing as their only form of medical treatment (even if I think they’re idiots for doing so). The biggest problem I have with faith healing is when parents deny children access to medical treatment in favour of faith healing, which often has tragic results:

An investigation led by Asser published in Pediatrics found that between 1975 and 1995, 172 children died following faith healing, 140 from easily curable or treatable medical conditions (Pediatrics 1998;101:625–9). In one case, a two-year-old girl choked on a banana and showed signs of life for an hour before dying, while her parents and other adults simply prayed.


Whilst it’s not an absolute given that all 140 children with easily treatable conditions would have survived if they had seen a doctor, if we assume they would have, then 81% of the deaths in these instances could have been prevented. Some of these circumstances (such as the child choking on a banana) could have been swiftly dealt with if the parents had called the emergency services.

There are other cases as well.

Two pending criminal cases expected to test Oregon’s revised law are against parents belonging to the Followers of Christ Church, the same religious sect that owns the cemetery visited by Asser in 2001.

Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and his 46-year-old wife, Marci Rae Beagley, have pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally negligent homicide for failing to provide adequate medical care, in violation of their duties as parents.

Their 16-year-old son, Neil, died in June from complications of a urinary-tract blockage that triggered heart failure. Doctors said a simple procedure could have saved his life.

In the other Oregon case, Carl Brent Worthington and his wife, Raylene, have pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, who died at home from bacterial pneumonia and a blood infection, conditions the state medical examiner said were treatable.


My view on this is very simple: if you do not seek medical treatment for yourself, and instead invoke faith healing or the power of prayer, that’s up to you. To deprive your child, for whom you are responsible, of access to medical treatment, is a form of neglect. A parent has a responsibility to their child to keep them safe and to look after them; ignoring tried and tested means of treatment is not adhering to that responsibility.

Detractors will try to claim that conventional medical practices are worse than faith healing, in terms of survivability and effectiveness. These claims come from a place of deep, unrelenting ignorance.

To reference a point I made before, regarding the measles vaccine: Modern medicine is known to work. Take the measles vaccine – since it was introduced in the US in the early 1960s, cases have dropped from around the 500,000 mark to well below 100,000 (in fact, the graph in the link would suggest that measles cases in the US are staggeringly low: http://www.vaccines.gov/basics/effectiveness/). In fact, according to the CDC, cases come in at triple digits, a decrease of 99.86% from the figures from the early 1960s. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html

Smallpox has been virtually eradicated, thanks to the efforts of modern medical science. What evidence exists that suggests we should place faith healing on the same level as modern medical science? What diseases has faith healing eradicated? The evidence does not make for kind reading for faith healing.

Should parents be held accountable for failing to seek conventional medical treatment for easily curable conditions (that later prove to be fatal or crippling if left untreated)? Something to ponder…

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