This is perhaps one of the most common objections to criticisms of alternative medicine, faith healing and assorted irrationalities in the field of pseudoscience, yet it is a rebuttal that is arguably both dangerous and confused. There is a substantial risk of harm from things like faith healing, since not only do they not get any actual benefit from the process, it can make them stop taking the medications they desperately need.
A stunning case of this issue was reported by Sky News a few days ago: HIV Deaths: Church Tells Patients to Stop Treatment. They report that.
At least six people have died in Britain after being told they had been healed of HIV and could stop taking their medication, Sky News has discovered. There is evidence evangelical churches in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow are claiming to cure HIV through God. Sky sent three undercover reporters to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), which is based in Southwark, south London. All of them told the pastors they were HIV positive – all were told they could be healed.
It always amazes me how these kinds of organizations do not get prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They are taking advantage of poor, sick individuals and deluding them into not only taking part in faith healing, but to actually stop taking their medications. This can lead to a reduction in expected life span and, as we have seen, death. Remember this the next time someone asks: “What’s the Harm?”
Deaths resulting from HIV patients being told not to take their medications has happened in the past on a much larger scale. The former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, was an HIV/AIDS denialist who thought that medication against HIV/AIDS where a western pharmaceutical plot by western pharmaceutical companies to destroy the future of Africans. This meant that he not only suggested using lemon and garlic to treat HIV, he stopped antiretrovirals from reaching HIV/AIDS patients. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health estimates that his actions lead to the death of more than 330000 Africans worth HIV/AIDS. The full story is told in Michael Specter’s terrific book Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.
The Sky News story continues:
The healing process involves the pastor shouting over the person being healed for the devil to come out of their body, while spraying water in their face. One of the pastors, Rachel Holmes, told Sky’s reporter Shatila, who is a genuine HIV sufferer, they had a 100% success rate. Ms Holmes said: “We have many people that contract HIV. All are healed.” She said, if symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea persist, it is actually a sign of the virus leaving the body.
So they literally believe that HIV can be cured by shooting and spraying some water in the face? Not only that, but they try to convince the patient that if the same symptoms continue, it is not because the faith healing failed, but because it actually worked!? The anti-scientific madness is obvious. Remember this the next time someone asks: “What’s the harm?”.
As if this was not enough, the horror continues:
Medical professionals have told Sky of at least six patients who died after being told by various churches to stop taking their HIV tablets. Emmanuel came off his medication a year ago on the instructions of a pastor at his church in north London. He said: “(The pastor) told me I’d been healed – ‘You’ve got to stop taking the medicine now. I’ll keep praying for you. Once God forgives you then the disease will definitely go.'” Emmanuel admitted he suspects he may have passed HIV onto his boyfriend.He said: “Yeah, I think I’ve passed it on. He got ill. Physically, he’s lost some bit of weight. “He’s very small. I think he’s worried… Yeah, I feel guilty, if I’m the one who passed it onto him I’m feeling guilty. Yeah, very much guilty.”
So at least six patients have been confirmed dead due to the actions of this church. Not only that, it actually harms prevention of new infections, since they have convinced people that once they are “cured” by the faith healing, they can go on like nothing is wrong. I cannot imagine the guilt that Emmanuel feels for giving his boyfriend HIV, even though he himself was betrayed and deceived by his church. Remember this the next time someone asks: “What’s the harm?”
The great irony is that the church in question is very wealthy and makes a lot of money from donations and sales. Not only that, it is registered as a charity! Let us hope they get their charity status revoked as soon as possible.
The story continues to baffle readers:
Sky asked the church for its response to our investigation. In a statement, it said: “We are not the Healer – God is the Healer. Never a sickness God cannot heal. Never a disease God cannot cure. Never a burden God cannot bear. Never a problem God cannot solve. “To His power, nothing is impossible. We have not done anything to bring about healing, deliverance or prosperity. If somebody is healed, it is God who heals. “We must have a genuine desire if we come to God. We are not in position to question anybody’s genuine desire. Only God knows if one comes with true desire. Only God can determine this. “That is why, if anybody comes in the name of God, we pray for them. The outcome of the prayer will determine if they come genuinely or not.”
So the reason that these people did not get cured is because their desire was not genuine? This is beyond madness. Do they really think that people with HIV/AIDS do not wish that they would not be sick? So instead of understanding the situation, facing up to the accusations and admitting that their actions has caused enormous guilt, spread of a dangerous virus and death, they continue to to wallow in their deluded beliefs.
Remember this the next time someone asks: “What’s the harm?”