Health Team

'Inoculate yourself with the word of God': How religion can limit medical treatment

Evangelical Christian minister Gloria Copeland, who sat on the Trump campaign's evangelical advisory board, is drawing criticism for recent comments about avoiding flu vaccination:

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by Sandee LaMotte (CNN)
(CNN) — Evangelical Christian minister Gloria Copeland, who sat on the Trump campaign's evangelical advisory board, is drawing criticism for recent comments about avoiding flu vaccination:

"We don't have a flu season and don't receive it when someone threatens you with 'everybody is getting the flu,' " Copeland said in a video on her Facebook page.

She claimed that Jesus was himself protection from the flu and suggested that people avoid the virus by repeating the phrase, "I'll never have the flu."

"We've already had our shot: He bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases," Copeland said. "He redeemed us from the curse of flu, and we receive it, and we take it, and we are healed by his strifes, amen."

Her comments come in the middle of one of the United States' worst flu seasons in recent years, one that has killed dozens of children and resulted in the highest number of hospitalizations recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copeland is not the first evangelical to call for limited medical treatment. Some fundamentalists don't believe in medications or psychological treatments for mental illness. Small groups of faith healers believe that prayer can heal and shun conventional medical support.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Just be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the flesh. - Deuteronomy 12:23

That's just one of several Old and New Testament scriptures used by Jehovah's Witnesses to explain why their religion refuses to accept blood transfusions.

"This is a religious issue rather than a personal one," explains, the official website for the religion. "We avoid taking blood not only in obedience to God but also out of respect for him as the Giver of life."

Pop icon Prince was a Jehovah's Witness, and it was widely speculated that he may have avoided surgery for a painful hip because of his religion. Hip replacement surgery commonly requires a blood transfusion during or immediately after. His autopsy, however, showed a scar on his left hip.

Followers are quick to point out that other than accepting blood, Jehovah's Witnesses are told to seek and receive the best medical care available.

The Amish

The Amish will not allow heart transplants and, in some cases, heart surgery because they view the heart as "the soul of the body." Children who have not been baptized are exempt from that restriction.

Though the religion does not forbid its members from seeking medical attention, many Amish are reluctant to do so unless absolutely necessary. They believe that God is the ultimate healer, and they are likely to turn to folk remedies, herbal teas and other more "natural" antidotes. They do not practice birth control, often lack prenatal care and avoid preventative screenings.

Seventh-day Adventists

Seventh-day Adventists' beliefs about medical care made headlines in 2014 when a British couple, Nkosiyapha and Virginia Kunene, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of their 5-month-old son from severe vitamin D deficiency, or rickets. Although the religion's lifestyle includes a vegetarian diet and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the Kunenes' extreme views on rejecting medical care are not shared by their church.

In fact, Seventh-day Adventists have no issue with standard medical treatment but do emphasize a holistic approach to health, which they practice in their not-for-profit Adventist hospital system, with divisions around the world.

Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims

Vaishnavism, the major branch of the Hindu faith, considers the killing of animals, especially cows, to be sinful. Therefore, the religion does not condone the use of any drugs, implants, skin grafts or medical dressings that contain parts of pigs or bovines.

Sikhs also disapprove of any animal-based products for medical use. But both religions allow for exceptions in cases of emergency or when no other options are available.

Both Sunni and Shiite Muslims also do not approve of any drugs, medical dressings or implants that contain porcine ingredients. But they too allow exceptions for emergencies and when no alternative drugs or materials are available.

Christian Scientists

Christian Scientists believe that the primary method of healing should be through prayer, and many members have in the past been against modern medical treatments. There have been measles outbreaks among Christian Scientists, and studies have shown that mortality levels were high.

Between 1980 and 1990, there were seven cases in which Christian Science parents were charged with failing to provide adequate medical care for their children.

One of the most publicized was the 1990 case of David and Ginger Twitchell, accused of manslaughter and neglect in the death of their 2-year-old son, Robyn, who died of a curable bowel obstruction. They were sentenced to 10 years of probation and required to take their three remaining children to a pediatrician for regular exams. Three years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturned the sentence on a legal technicality.

"None of these parents were jailed," said Rita Swan, founder of Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, a website devoted to ending child abuse or neglect related to religion, cultural practices or quackery. "With all of the faith-healing deaths, it was uncommon to get prison time."

Swan was a Christian Scientist who left the church after the death of her 16-month-old son, Matthew, from spinal meningitis in 1977. Matthew was treated only by a Christian Science practitioner for nearly two weeks before Rita and her husband, Doug, were allowed to take the boy to a doctor. The Swans have since dedicated their lives to tracking and exposing child deaths due to medical maltreatment.

On its website, the church states that members should "turn for assistance in healing to a Christian Science practitioner, Christian Science nurse, or find aid from a Christian Science nursing sanatorium."

Christian Science practitioners are said to be "independent and self-employed individuals" who charge "modest fees" for their services, which include "prayer ... and its power to heal all forms of suffering."

Christian Science nurses can provide physical assistance and a "healing atmosphere" to their patients but do not "diagnose, administer drugs, or provide any sort of physical therapy or other medical treatment."

But the religion does not go as far as to ban outside treatment, saying instead that members are "always free to choose the kind of health care that meets their present needs."

"Christian Science has changed to some extent," Swan said, "although the textbook still discourages medical care, and they have a tendency to believe the text should be followed to the letter.

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