Opinion Piece says JWs and Catholics Hurt Child Health Care
Op Ed: Religious intervention can hurt child health care
Edmonton Journal By Juliet Guichon And Mark JoffeAugust 18, 2012
Interventions by religious leaders in children's health care are not uncommon.
The Watchtower Society (which governs Jehovah's Witnesses) holds that administering blood transfusion is inconsistent with the Society's teaching. Similarly, the Alberta Catholic Bishops hold that administering the HPV vaccine in schools is inconsistent with the Catholic Church's teaching.
Edmonton's Catholic board did not follow the church's guidance on the matter when the province introduced a vaccination program in 2008, but many others did, including Catholic boards in neighbouring districts such as Lakeland and Elk Island, and Catholic boards in Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.
The two medical treatments are different in that one aims to reduce symptoms and to support treatment, whereas the other seeks to prevent illness. But they are alike in having the potential to save lives.
The Watchtower Society and the Alberta Bishops' pronouncements suggest that doctors' advice should not be followed. The pronouncements question the safety and the necessity of the medical treatment - blood transfusion in the one case and in the other, vaccination of women against the strains of human papillomavirus that cause 70 per cent of cervical cancers and 90 per cent of genital warts.
In claiming that blood transfusion is unsafe, the Watchtower Society's website quotes a 50-year-old medical article that suggests blood transfusion has a very high death rate. The website also suggests that HIV is in the blood supply, quoting an article written in 1989, four years after the implementation of HIV screening of the blood system. In other words, current evidence about transfusion safety is ignored.
The Watchtower also tells its followers that blood transfusion is not necessary. For example, it implies that normal saline can be adequate, even though saline completely lacks the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells provided by transfusion. When such religious instruction contradicts doctors' recommendations, patients and parents can be confused.
Similarly, the Alberta Catholic Bishops suggest that vaccination against HPV is not safe and not necessary. Their words are physically interposed between doctors and parents in a manner that can be confusing. To give parents information about the vaccine so they may consent or refuse to consent for their child, public health specialists write to parents. The doctors' letter goes home from school with the child. But many Catholic Schools insert into the envelope a letter from Alberta Catholic bishops.
The bishops write, "We en-courage parents to learn the medical facts concerning this vaccination and possible side effects." One feared side-effect is that vaccination will promote promiscuity; the "school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed."
The bishops' letter does not mention the wealth of evidence of the vaccine's safety and effectiveness, and ignores the fact that no evidence exists linking vaccination and sexual behaviour.
Alberta bishops also question the necessity of HPV vaccination stating that abstinence is "obviously the best protection against risks of disease."
The bishops do not state how best to care for those who are not abstinent before marriage, who are sexually abused or who contract the virus from their husband at marriage.
One Alberta bishop accepts that children, whose easy access to vaccine was blocked, might later contract cervical cancer. He implies that the cancer sufferer must assume personal responsibility. Calgary Bishop Henry is quoted, "What is our teaching on sexuality? If people choose to walk away from that life there are consequences and they have to acknowledge that - it's not my job."
Clearly, religious leaders and physicians can differ in their views about what is appropriate medical treatment and whether we ought to try to prevent illness and death when we can.
This is regrettable. But the fact that religious leaders intervene in children's medical care is not central.
The important question is: how does the state give effect to its duties toward children?
While the state can act quickly to protect children who need blood, it is currently stymied in protecting children whose easy access to a publicly funded vaccine is blocked.
The state should not be stymied. It has empowered elected officials to govern publicly funded schools. In the Alberta School Act, the state instructs school trustees to provide each student "with a safe and caring environment that fosters and maintains respectful and responsible behaviours.
If the trustees are uncertain how to interpret that phrase, then the trustees might consult citizens who are, in effect, their bosses.
The Catholic school trustees could ask Albertans, "What is the better way to provide a safe and caring environment for children: with dogma or with preventive health care?"
Juliet Guichon is an assistant professor in the University of Calgary's faculty of medicine; Mark Joffe is a physician and professor of medicine in the University of Alberta's faculty of medicine.© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
Thanks, Andersons - I tried to post the article in text but didn't do it right, apparently.
I like how the authors have pointed out the JW use of 50-year-old medical material to support their beliefs. I also can't help but wonder if JWs are not also against HPV vaccinations.
Edited: Oops. I accidently posted this same info twice. Forgot I did it late last night on another thread. Old age taking its toll.