A recent Associated Press article picked up by the international media reports how a sick 11-year-old girl died after her parents opted to pray for her recovery rather than take her to the hospital. The child had an undiagnosed, treatable form of diabetes, and the article implied that had she been rushed to emergency, she would have been fine. Meanwhile, her parents insist that since God is the healer, they did the right thing.
I'm certainly not qualified to say whether or not prayer heals or whether the parents acted irresponsibly, and that's not the point, anyway. The point is that the media made a big fuss about one child who died because her parents opted not to go to the doctor -- but there was no mention of the hundreds of thousands of children who die because their parents did seek medical help.
You've seen the stats in previous posts here. Within hospitals, as many as 98,000 patients each year die from preventable medical errors -- with most of those errors occurring in emergency departments, intensive care units, and operating rooms -- precisely the units where a very sick child would end up. The fatal errors most frequently cited include faulty diagnosis, flawed delivery of treatment, equipment failure, delays in delivering treatment, inadequate follow-up, and mistakes in the dose or delivery of a drug.
Then, of course, there are pharmaceutical drugs, which cause an overwhelming number of deaths and emergencies -- even when administered correctly. Almost seven percent of all hospitalized patients in the US -- or 770,000 patients--have serious adverse drug reactions (ADRs) within hospitals each year. Over a hundred thousand hospitalized patients die annually from drug reactions, and an additional 1.5 million need hospitalization after suffering an adverse drug reaction outside the hospital. In fact, ADRs comprise the fourth leading cause of death in the US, and children aren't exempt, with 2.09% of all pediatric hospitalizations resulting from reactions to pharmaceuticals. This means that 79,000 children annually get rushed to hospitals because of adverse drug reactions. And, the problem continues to get worse. A British study found that the number of ADRs shot up 155% in the 10 years from 1996 to 2006.
And add to these numbers the fact that one out of every 20 patients in the US gets a hospital-induced infection each year, which works out to over six-million patients annually. But it gets worse. Studies now show that over 70 percent of the bacteria that cause hospital-induced infections have become resistant to treatment with drugs, meaning that these infections will cause escalating emergencies and fatalities in coming years.
The bottom line is that before we join the worldwide press in demonizing the little girl's parents as foolish religious fanatics for not rushing her to a hospital, let's consider -- for all of the reasons cited above -- that it's not so illogical for parents to be concerned about rushing an ill child to the hospital. Medical treatments certainly are an option when faced with emergencies, but given the realities of hospitalization safety rates, a parent would be imprudent to disregard possible complications associated with any hospital visit.
By the way, although the results are not conclusive, there have definitely been some studies that indicate that healing prayer made indeed work. In fact, even if you do opt for medical care, it just might be worth a little prayer asking the gods to protect your child from the menace of the medical demons.