More evidence that when it comes to health, prayer is 100% effective… in making a condition worse.
If Mariah Walton’s parents had sought the help of medical professionals when she was born with a small hole in her heart, the condition could have been treated and she could have gone on to live a happy, healthy childhood playing in the vast potato fields of her home state.
The childhood she describes is painfully different:
“My lungs burn because I can’t get the oxygen I need”, she stated to local news channel KTVB. Mariah’s mother admitted to using essential oils, herbal remedies, and prayer rather than seek professional medical help. “They used to pray over me”, Mariah said. “They’d say: ‘God’s going to heal you, just have faith’ and all kinds of stuff… I think it’s time to prosecute them”.
Mariah, her nine siblings, and other Idahoans are now pushing for a law that requires parents to obtain treatment by actual physicians or face penalties including jail time. Currently, Idaho is one of several states that allows religious exemptions for a child’s healthcare. The First Amendment is cited in support of this exemption, prohibiting the government from creating laws inhibiting religious practices.
Where is the line drawn between faith and medicine? The answer, when it comes to adults, is simple enough: the influence of your beliefs should end at the point when you’re no longer content to just follow them yourself but insist on imposing them on others. Faith, or lack thereof, is a personal matter. And if you believe prayer can cure you of everything from a heart condition to a sucking chest wound, you’re free to gurgle your prayers as you bleed out instead of calling 9/11.
But when it comes to children the issue is not so clear cut. Children aren’t allowed the autonomy to make decisions for self-evident reasons. Though this is only predicated on the idea that their parents “know better”, ie. have the knowledge, experience, and wisdom to make good decisions, as competent adults.
So when a parent fails in their duty to provide for their child’s health and safety, at what point does the State intervene? Coming together to collectively decide a complicated social issue like this is the point of our democratic form of government. And yet, for Democracy itself to work it requires the majority of citizens to be rational actors, able to make decisions based on evidence of what is effective rather than what that majority believes is effective.
The evidence is clear: prayer does not cure disease. But that does not stop as many as 72% of Americans from believing otherwise. The adult majority in this case seems to be no more capable of making better decisions about health than the children they’re supposed to be caring for.
The long-term solution, as always, is education and promotion of scientific literacy to combat ignorance and a shamefully medieval understanding of the world. The interim solution seems limited to activism, lobbying, and legislation; and groups such as Children’s Right to Live are working on this. Perhaps litigation is in order as well: Mariah Walton is now 21. Maybe she should sue her parents.
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