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Religiously motivated medical neglect

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Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

A minority of Christian denominations teach that prayer is not only helpful for those with illness but that it should be used instead of conventional medical care. Of course, this leads to many deaths from common but preventable illnesses and conditions. Of particular concern are children of religious parents that do not seek medical support and are often not publicly reported. A study in 1998 looked into religiously motivated medical neglect deaths of 172 children and concluded that most deaths were probably preventable.[1] However, the scale of the problem is difficult to estimate because of the secrecy surrounding these fatalities.

Most Christian denominations do not oppose medical care or do so only for specific treatments.

In many areas of the United States, there are laws that protect parents who rely on prayer or faith healing alone from prosecution.[2][3] If the same actions were motivated by other reasons, they would be considered child abuse. This is another harm caused by the so-called freedom of conscience.

Examples in Christianity[edit]

  • Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood transfusions.[4]
  • Christian Science adherents often rely on prayer rather than medical assistance, even for serious illness.
  • Some Christians oppose vaccines from STDs, such as HPV.[5]
  • In 2008, Kara Neumann died of treatable diabetes after her parents, who were followers of the Unleavened Bread Ministries, did not get medical help.[6]
  • Followers of Christ Church often use prayer rather than medicine, such as in the case of Alex Morris in 1989.[2] The sect has a high child mortality rate because they do not seek appropriate care. [3]
  • Some fundamentalist Mormons refuse conventional medical care. [3]
  • Prosperity gospel preachers claiming "Jesus is my flu vaccination".[7]


  • Many Christian denominations, notably the Catholic Church, oppose contraception even though it helps prevents the spread of STDs such as HIV.
  • Doctors in Ireland performed highly risky symphysiotomy births for decades. Repeated Caesarean section births (at the time) had progressively greater risk, requiring eventual sterilization and this was considered a form of indirect contraception.
  • In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died of a miscarriage because she was refused an abortion to save her life, due to Catholic policies in Ireland.[8]
  • A German woman seeking a medical examination after being raped was turned away from two Catholic affiliated hospitals, so they could avoid the possibility they would need to provide advice about abortion, 2013.[9]
  • Catholic hospital denies Michigan woman a tubal ligation on religious grounds, 2015.[10]
  • US woman turned away by Catholic administered hospital after her IUD became dislodged, causing bleeding, 2016.[11]


Scientology opposes conventional mental health care.[12]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


This article uses material from the Iron Chariots article Religiously motivated medical neglect, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License (view authors). Iron Chariots logo