Friday, June 15, 2012

God's war on medicine

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

An ongoing debate concerns the matter of whether religion and science are compatible; symbiotic; antagonistic; or even, in the words of Stephen Jay Gould, “non-overlapping magisteria”. As two pieces of news this week show, this is no irrelevant, ivory-tower squabble between bespectacled egg-heads, but a practical question with real, often grave, consequences in the real world.

Take the case of the cleric Maulvi Ibrahim Chisti, of Pakistan’s Punjab province, who has declared vaccination against polio to be “un-Islamic” and called for “jihad” against all those involved in its proliferation. His reason? The vaccine is a “poison”; a “Western conspiracy” designed to render the Muslim population impotent.

Polio is, of course, one of those diseases like smallpox that shouldn’t exist anymore. Science conquered it as long ago as 1950, and it is now entirely eradicated in the developed world. Yet according to the World Health Organisation, it’s actually on the rise in Pakistan, with over 150,000 children not immunized against it, largely thanks to the terrifying propaganda of religious charlatans like Chisti.

But hey, this kind of stuff only happens in the ill-educated, impoverished tribal backwaters of Asia, right? Wrong. Consider the recent statement by senior American Roman Catholic bishops that President Obama’s health care plan threatens religious liberty in a way not seen since the beheading of Thomas More in the 16th century. The grievance in this case was Obama’s refusal to remove contraception from proposed health insurance packages. Of course, by this logic, a Jehovah’s Witness might argue that the inclusion of blood transfusions is also an egregious assault on his faith, just as I might invent a religion right now that claims (on equally valid evidence) that rape is virtuous, and decry state opposition to this as Stalinist brutality, and so on.

It comes down to this: If what my doctor says contradicts what your holy book says, my doctor wins. And if you want to exempt yourself from condoms or the polio vaccine or gathering sticks on the Sabbath, you’re more than welcome to do so, but you may not force the rest of us to follow you.

1 comment:

  1. Religions need to adapt and accommodate.
    Jehovah's Witnesses blood transfusion confusion

    Jehovahs Witnesses take blood products now in 2012.
    They take all fractions of blood.This includes hemoglobin, albumin, clotting factors, cryosupernatant and cryopoor too, and many, many, others.
    If one adds up all the blood fractions the JWs takes, it equals a whole unit of blood. Any, many of these fractions are made from thousands upon thousands of units of donated blood.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses can take Bovine *cows blood* as long as it is euphemistically called synthetic Hemopure.
    Jehovah's Witnesses now accept every fraction of blood except the membrane of the red blood cell. JWs now accept blood transfusions.
    The fact that the JW blood issue is so unclear is downright dangerous in the emergency room.

    Danny Haszard