Religion and science never do agree. This ranges from the theory of evolution, to abortion, to cloning, to euthanasia and even in receiving medical treatment. The beliefs of some religious have prevented basic medical treatment from being delivered to them. This prevents health workers from doing what they do best which is to save lives.
For some people who have a very strong sense of faith or for those who do not have the resources to avail of medical treatment, faith healing is often the way to go. Many who have sought help from medical practitioners but are not healed of their illness often resort to this kind of treatment saying that they have nothing to lose as conventional medicine has already failed them. Faith healing has never been proven to work because faith healing is a “miracle” which cannot be proved by science. This has always been the problem between science and religion. The Philippines is one country that has become renowned for having a multitude of faith healers and many of them claim that they are being used by the Holy Spirit as a medium to heal people of their illnesses. For some, instead of healing the terminal illness, the faith healer’s questionable methods of healing only aggravate the situation and medical practitioners are alarmed by rather unorthodox, unsafe and unsanitized methods. Skeptics say that it is a hoax but many people testify that faith healing worked for them.
Another point of attention pertains to Jehovah’s Witnesses which disallows blood transfusion because they believe that blood transfusion is “against God’s law”. Performing surgical treatment on a Jehovah’s witness has always been a challenge for many doctors (Karcioglu, 2003) and that there are already documented cases wherein the refusal of the patient to receive blood transfusion has resulted in a death which could have been easily avoided if they allowed for blood transfusion. One death involved a Jehovah’s Witness who gave birth to twins on November 2007. The mother suffered a hemorrhage and lost large amounts of blood. The mother has signed a form before giving birth that she does not oblige to receive blood transfusions. Doctors tried to convince the husband and family who are also Jehovah’s Witnesses to perform blood transfusion on the dying mother but they did not oblige resulting in the death of the mother just after giving birth (Hull, 2007).
Aside from blood transfusion, Jehovah’s Witnesses also used to express objection against vaccination and inoculation. The Bible does not necessarily state that vaccination is against the teachings of God but the religious group still discouraged the use of such medical services. The same is true for organ transplants which were previously not allowed. Jehovah’s Witnesses refused vaccinations eve if it meant putting their security and their children’s health on the line. The Watchtower Society has been poorly and literally interpreting texts contained in the Bible and some even regarded the group as cults (Why did these kids die?). The Watchtower Society labeled vaccines as “barbarous” and “devilish”. They also said that it is against the law of God because it is “injection of animal matter into the bloodstream” (Robinson, 2003).
Islam is another religion which has been against some known medical practice. It has been noted that Muslim health care practitioners and Muslim hospital visitors in London refuse to wash their hands before coming in contact with patients because the anti-bacterial gel dispensers contained alcohol and it is against their religious beliefs. This has been described as an alarming scenario taking into account that patients can contract bacterial infection from such practice and data indicate that one out of 20 hospital patients, or two million in total, contract bacterial infection while inside hospital facilities. Ninety thousand of them die from the infection. It is known that disinfectants contain isopropyl alcohol but it is not consumed or taken inside the body when used only as a disinfectant. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the problem was also existent in other parts of Europe, the United States and Canada. However, hand-washing using disinfectants that contain alcohol is widely accepted by pharmacists and people in Saudi Arabia which is an Islamic country (MacAllen, 2007).
Special attention should also be given when giving medical care to Muslim women. According to Dr. Memoona Hasnain, director of research and assistant professor of public health in family medicine at Univerisity of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Muslim women often do not get the medical and health care needs that should have been accorded to them because of barriers caused by religious and cultural beliefs. She also said that health care practitioners should be aware of this (AScribe, 2005).
“Modesty, for example, is a key concept in Muslim women’s lives. Observant Muslim women prefer to avoid unnecessary close contact with men, and most choose to wear clothing that covers their bodies. They need female health care providers and have dietary restrictions, special needs during fasting, and personal hygiene needs related to daily prayers,” the director said (AScribe, 2005).
Another point of much debate is abortion. It may be permitted if continuing the pregnancy proves to be a threat to the health and well-being of the mother or even to both the mother and the fetus but many religions have been against such practice because abortion takes away the life of the fetus and it is considered an act of murder because their gods disallows taking of a persons life. Catholics and Muslims does not allow of such practice but Buddhism is open about the practice as long as it is being done for medical purposes.
In another specific case, health care and religion is again pitched with each other as a Jewish family refuses to withdraw life support from an ailing family member on the ground that it is a sin to “hasten death”. The doctors argue that the patient has minimal brain function, has only a very small chance of recovery, and is constantly in pain. They say that continuing life support would be an abuse so they recommended for the disconnection of the ventilator and feeding tube which has been keeping the patient alive but the family members do not oblige to perform euthanasia. The family’s lawyer told the media that the family believes that there is hope as long as there is life (Tonelli, 2007).
On the bright side, religion and health care may also be a good mix. A study done at the University of Missouri-Columbia indicates that religion actually helps people that have developed disabilities adjust and recover from traumatic experiences. The study attested that religion will people who are facing impending death to cope with their present situation. The study also noted that praying with the patient may also help in a number of cases. Patients who have been injured as a result of the actions of other people may recover faster using religious beliefs. The study stated that religion should be used in rehabilitation processes and educating health care workers on different religious cultures would also hasten the rehabilitation process (ScienceDaily, 2007).
Science and religion will never agree because both are based on different concepts. Science is based on facts and evidence whereas religion is based on certain beliefs and religious scriptures. In this case, it is medical science versus religion. People may have the right to refuse medical treatment but health care workers are torn because they have pledged under a covenant. They have a moral obligation to help people and save lives. On one permissible point of view, health care is provided for the best interest of the people and not for the interest of a god. If the god that they worship is morally upright, then there is nothing wrong with saving lives. The so-called teachings of gods are not absolute. Interpretations of religious scriptures should not be thought of properly and people must not always believe what religious leaders say. They must learn to decide for themselves.
Özgür Karcioglu, Erdem Özkara, Murat Civaner, Niyazi Özüçelik. Resuscitation Of A Jehovah’s Witness With Multiple Injuries Without Blood: Right To Die?. The Internet Journal of Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine. 2003. Volume 7 Number 1.
Liz Hull, Andy Dolan, Dan Newling. 5 November 2007. Jehovah’s Witness mother dies after refusing blood transfusion after giving birth to twins. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=491791&in
Why Did These Kids Die?. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.cftf.com/comments/kids
Robinson, B. A. 4 September 2003. Jehovah’s Witnesses Past Opposition to Vaccinations. Religious Tolerance. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.religioustolerance.org/
MacAllen, Susan. 7 February 2007. Islamic Superstition Endangers Healthcare System in the West. Islam Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.islam-watch.org/Mac/Islam_
AScribe. 3 March 2005. Conference Looks at Health Care for Muslim Women in the U.S.. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://newswire.ascribe.org/cgi-bin/behold.pl?ascribeid
Tonelli, Carla. 15 December 2007. Canada Life Support Case Pits Religion vs Science. Care Connection. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.healthcentral.com/caregiver/news-
Science Daily. 24 October 2007. Religion and Health Care Should Mix, Study Says. Retrieved May 6, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071023104134.htm