The dumbest Republican move of the year: defending a religion’s right to murder its children

It’s only February, but I doubt we’ll see much Republican craziness to top this: a state representative defending a particularly crazy Christian sect that doesn’t believe in medical care, and defending their right to abjure scientific medicine in favor of prayer for their kids. That sect has already killed hundreds of its own children (and adults) through Jesus-based medical neglect.

The Republican is Christy Perry, a state representative from Idaho. You can get an idea of some of her politics from the very first picture on her official page, which also notes that she is endorsed by the National Rifle Association:


and from the logo on her official “contact” page:

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 10.36.05 AM

The sect Perry is defending, according to The Raw Story, is notorious the Followers of Christ (FoC), a sect I know something about since it figures at the end of the Albatross. Based in Oregon, but with many members in Idaho, the sect rejects medical care for its members and its children, refusing even midwives.

That faith-based tenet has resulted in dozens of adult and child deaths, some of them horribly gruesome. Read The Albatross (available in fine bookstores everywhere or by mail after May 19) to learn more, but you can see a precis in the “Controversy” section of Wikipedia’s article about the church. CHILD (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty), a great organization, summarizes the church’s sad history:

The main faith-healing sect in Idaho with such beliefs is the Followers of Christ. Child mortality among them appears to be extremely elevated. By recent count there are 208 children under the age of 18 who are buried in Peaceful Valley Cemetery, one of several used by the Idaho Followers of Christ. There are a total of 604 graves in that cemetery. Nearly 35% of them are of children who died before age 18 and stillbirths. In contrast, Idaho Vital Statistics data show that during the years 2002-2011 only 3.37% of deaths statewide are of minor children or stillbirths. 35% vs 3.37% — one doesn’t have to do much math to see that there’s a huge difference. In addition, the leading cause of death among Idaho children older than one year is accidents. If we had a way to separate out disease-related mortality from accidental deaths, child mortality in the Followers of Christ would look even astronomically higher.

Perry, it turns out, is opposing proposed Idaho legislation that will get rid of the state’s present religious exemptions for children’s health care. As I’ve noted before, forty-three of the fifty US states confer some type of civil or criminal immunity on parents who injure their children by withholding medical care on religious grounds. But that immunity doesn’t hold if you injure your child by withholding medical care for nonreligious reasons, so it’s a privileging of religion that is dangerous to children.

As CHILD notes, “Idaho’s laws protecting children from religion-related medical neglect may well be the worst in the nation. Only five other states have a statutory exemption from the involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide of a minor child based on religious beliefs which bar or discourage medical care.” According to The Raw Story, the proposed new Idaho law would allow parents to be prosecuted when they reject conventional medicine in favor of faith healing, and when that action “may cause death or permanent disability” to the child.

Well, the law could go farther, because there is a lot of suffering that doesn’t accompany death or permanent disability but could still be prevented by medical attention.  But Perry wants the present draconian laws to remain.  As The Raw Story reports:

“They have a clear understanding of what the role of government should be – (and it) isn’t how to tell me how to live my life,” said state Rep. Christy Perry (R-Nampa).

. . . Perry insists Followers of Christ have a First Amendment right to deny medical care to their children on religious grounds, arguing that they are perhaps more comfortable confronting death, reported Al Jazeera America.

“Children do die,” Perry said. “I’m not trying to sound callous, but (reformers) want to act as if death is an anomaly. But it’s not — it’s a way of life.”

She may be trying not to sound callous, but she’s not only callous, she’s reprehensible. Death is not a “way of life,” it’s the end of life. And death can be prevented (easily, in many case) if appropriate medical attention is given to children. The fact is that you can’t cure a child of juvenile diabetes through prayer, even though the Followers of Christ have tried.  That leads to a horrible death, something that Perry fobs off as simply a “way of life”.  Death is indeed an anomaly if it can be prevented by medical intervention. And even if you think, as Christy undoubtedly does, that those dead children will find their respite in Heaven, that’s no answer, for they’ve still suffered and died here on Earth—suffering and death that could be prevented. Let them go to heaven at a ripe old age, for crying out loud!

This is the kind of logic that apparently dissuades Americans from prosecuting those parents who would martyr children for their religion:

(Followers of Christ) do not look to the government to help them at all,” [Perry] continued. “They’re very self-sufficient and know how to take care of themselves. In Canyon County, people hunt to feed their families, they fish, (and) they grow their own food.”

Perry said faith healers are caring parents who simply trust in God’s will.

“They are comforted by the fact that they know their child is in heaven,” Perry said. “If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?”

I’m sorry, but they don’t know how to take care of themselves, at least not in the twenty-first century.  They don’t know how to treat an infection; they don’t know how to treat diabetes; they don’t know how to deal with the complications of childbirth; they don’t know how to treat asthma.  And how has trusting God’s will worked out for them, with a children’s death rate perhaps tenfold higher than the state average.  Does God really want Followers of Christ children to die ten times more often than non-Followers’ children? Why would he want that?

I don’t have to answer the question, “If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?”, because the real question is this “If I want to let my child be with God when he or she didn’t have to, and after a period of prolonged suffering, why is that wrong?” The question answers itself.

Finally, Perry has the temerity to accuse those who want religions exemptions eliminated of being biased against the FoC.

The lawmaker questioned the motives of faith-healing reformers.

“Is it really because these children are dying more so than other children, or is this really about an attack on a religion you don’t agree with?” Perry said.

The answer is the first choice: because children of Followers of Christ are being tortured and killed by the dictates of their parents’ faith. Yes, I disagree with that, but if the church simply had a belief that they didn’t act on, who would care? After all, this kind of religous exemption, and its sequelae, revolt many religious people, too. It’s not an attack on religion per se, but I suppose it is as an attack on the actions of a particular religion. And so what, if those actions are murderous and delusional, and take the lives of children too young to make their own decision?

If you live in Idaho, please contact your representative and urge him or her to vote in favor of the new bill. And if you’re an American elsewhere, be aware that the odds are high that your own state has similar legislation, much of it enacted through lobbying by Christian Scientists. We must get rid of all these religious exemptions—for the sake of the children.

h/t: Ant

Live long and prosper

by Greg Mayer

Jerry of course has already noted the passing yesterday of Leonard Nimoy, and many readers have weighed in with memories and encomia in the comments. Jerry was not a big Star Trek fan, so I thought I’d add a few thoughts here above the fold.

Star Trek, with Spock at its moral core, became a cultural touchstone for multiple generations. In a statement yesterday, President Obama (perhaps thinking of himself a little too!), said

[Spock was] Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

It is this latter aspect of Star Trek– it’s vision– that I wish to comment on here. Star Trek‘s basic message, continued over 36 years of films and television shows, is this: When sentient beings of good will act together, there is no problem in the Universe that cannot be overcome. The Star Trek world was a mediation on, and most often a celebration of, humanism, in the broad philosophical sense– the capacity of the human species, by reason and reflection and good works to come to know the world and to establish a just social order. What Nimoy’s Spock gave to this world was, among other things, its inclusivity. It was not just for us, or just the human species– it was for everyone.

The Star Trek world did not come to the full realization of this ethos on first pass, but like all human institutions, grew into its fuller development over time. It was at the end of the film The Undiscovered Country from 1991, after concluding peace with the Klingons, that Captain Kirk repeats Star Trek‘s mantra, but alters it: “To boldly go where no man– where no one– has gone before”, not as a reference to the decreasing usage of “man” in the sense of the whole species, but as the inclusion of all sentient beings– including the previously implacable foe, the Klingons– in the community that was to be grown and perfected. Star Trek maintained this optimistic, inclusive vision for over three decades.

(The Star Wars universe, introduced a decade after Star Trek, paled in comparison– it was, at best, Nordic in it’s resignation in the face of humanity’s inabilities and failings, but in fact nearer a mystical cult in its Colbertesque obeisance to the “force” as a feeling in the gut, to be embraced against the false lure of skill and reason.)

While many (including me) have commented on how Nimoy’s Spock served as an inspiration to budding scientists, some have also commented on his later hosting of a rather wacko show devoted to pseudoscience and paranormal claims called In Search of…. I’ve never investigated Nimoy’s personal views on these subjects, nor much watched the show, but I would like to think that Nimoy’s views are reflected in his guest appearance on one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, a parody of the paranormal police procedural, The X-files, in which Nimoy also parodies In Search of…:

Star Trek, and Nimoy in particular, have given us (including here at WEIT, where you can get your evolutionary biology and Star Trek jokes all in one place) much to enjoy, and to think about, over the years. To paraphrase T’Pring, we have been honored.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

The tank is running low again, so if you have good photos (and by “good,” I mean photos of the quality comparable to those that regularly appear here), by all means send them to me.

Today we have two photos by a new contributor, reader Helen Iwanik, who photographed these mangrove tree crabs (Aratus pisonii) in Florida. These are aroboreal crabs that mainly eat leaf scrapings, though they will eat animal matter when they can get it:

H., mangrove tree crabs

Mangrove tree crab

And here’s a photograph from reader Diana MacPherson; unfortunately, I’ve lost the notes, but I’m hoping that either she or another reader can identify it:

Diana #2

Finally, reader Keira McKenzie sends a bee and a flower. The bee is unidentified, the flower is a coral gum blossom, Eucalyptus torquata, native to a small patch in Western Australia, cultivated elsewhere.


Caturday felid trifecta: Puss gets octopus on the puss, cat nurses hedgehog, and cats getting massaged (plus lagniappe!)

We have another trifecta today, and I hope you people appreciate the great labor it takes for Professor Ceiling Cat to collect these and present them in an attractive and appealing manner.  Where’s my treat?

First, we have a cat who bit off more than it could chew, although one tentacle seems to have been nommed.

The Japanese Korean YouTube title is this: 고양이 낙지절도단!?  Translation, anyone? And if you can translate what the exercised octopus owner says, that would be a bonus!


From Love Meow we learn that Sonya the Cat adopted four orphaned hedgehogs, and that’s all we know. Clearly the mother is pumped up on oxytocin from having her own kitten (only one?), or else she’d never allow that quartet of animated pincushions access to her teats!

Here are the YouTube notes, showing that Sonya is Russian (I think I can get “MAMA” in the first line, but help from readers appreciated for the rest):

На соседнем дачном участке умерла мама-ежиха.
Слепыши-детки остались сиротками. На выручку пришла наша кошка Сонька))))
теперь у нее котенок и четверо приемышей

And two photos:




Finally, a cat masseuse.  One of our readers is married to a massage therapist, and, after watching this I’m trying to get her to expand the business into pet massage. I’m sure that in this crazy world there is at least one person who does that for a living, and the cats sure like it!

One of them might be this guy, described in the YouTube notes:

Levi the Cat Masseuse travels Southern Thailand giving stray cats the time of their life. You can be a Cat Masseuse Master too! Watch this short informative video featuring Salty The Reggae Cat! You never know when TCM will show up to give you a good time!

And, of course, there are compilations of cat massages on YouTube; here’s one, and I’d recommend watching it all so you can see Lint Roller Cat. My favorite is the insouciant cat at 3:39:

This shows clearly that cats are truly the masters of humans. We get very little out of this activity except the touch of fur and the sound of purr, but the cats get 95% of the benefit. Is this symbiosis or commensalism? And the cats don’t even have to ask for it—they simply give out cosmic vibes that it is their due.
Our lagniappe today comprises pictures of cats from two of our readers. The first is our own Matthew Cobb, who tw**ted this photo of himself and Kitten Harry this morning. He says that looking for the hashtag will tell you what an “otak” is.
Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 7.42.39 AM
And finally, reader “anonypuss” in Berlin (not the same “anonypuss” from Colorado who is Butter’s alter ego) sent a photo of one of her two cats, the ponderous and daunting Oskar. The owner claims that this cat wins the Hili lookalike contest:

Saturday: Hili dialogue

Good news: it’s the weekend, and we won’t even get snow until tonight! The Big Question for today is whether I can get my car out of the mini-snowbank in which it’s mired. If I can’t, I won’t eat.

But in Dobrzyn there is no snow and the spring is hanging in the air. On their daily walkies, Hili puts the ever-thick Cyrus in his place:

Cyrus: Do you prefer to watch the sunset or the sunrise from here?
Hili: It depends on what time it is.
In Polish:
Cyrus: Czy wolisz z tego miejsca oglądać wschody, czy zachody słońca?
Hili: To zależy, o której godzinie.

I’ll Follow the Sun

Remember that old Beatles tune? Anyway, it’s suitable as a title for this video taken from Neatorama, with these notes about a passel of Japanese cats:

The approximately 8 cats that live in the house love to sunbathe. There’s only a narrow strip of sunlight available on the floor. During the day, the sun moves across the sky and the sunbeam moves across the room. This video by Mitsuri Yasui shows the cats shifting position to keep up with the sunbeam.

Note that the most advantageous spot is closest to the window, for a cat in that spot has to move least often. Either natural or cultural selection should eventually lead to a squabble for that spot!

h/t: T. F.

Philomena Cunk on Winston Churchill

After the “Evolution” segment, this is my favorite episode of “Moments of Wonder.” Here Philomena investigates the legend that was Winston Churchill. There are several great bits, including the opening question as well as her statement, “If he were alive today, imagine how good his tweets would have been.”

Notice, too, how she pronounces Churchill’s first name and completely flummoxes Churchill Man.

There are two episodes to go: one on money and another on food (the latter, which aired yesterday, hasn’t yet been posted). But even when those are up, we won’t have seen the end of Cunk.

Here’s a tw**t from Diane Morgan, Philomena’s real name, sent by Matthew Cobb, who’s feeding my obsession:

Screen shot 2015-02-27 at 4.42.24 AM

And I found this one:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.37.40 PM

Mr. Spock is dead

When Greg just emailed me the news that Leonard Nimoy had died, I thought, “Not possible: he was too young.” But then I read his obituary in the New York Times and found that he was 83.

Both the NYT and Time Magazine notes that he was fatally ill with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema) and apparently knew he was going to die. He had stopped smoking three decades earlier, but it was already too late.

The magazine reproduces his final tw**t, issued only on Monday. It’s poignant:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.17.53 PM

Time adds:

Nimoy signed all his tweets “LLAP” or “Live Long and Prosper,” his character’s catchphrase from the Star Trek series and films.

Nimoy had announced via Twitter last year that he had been diagnosed with COPD, a chronic respiratory disease caused by smoking that has no cure. He encouraged his followers to stop smoking.

I never watched Star Trek, but I know that he’s often used as an exemplar or metaphor on this site, and that many of the readers know a lot about Nimoy, and loved his character. Feel free to share your memories below.

He did indeed live long, and prospered.


Member of U.S. House Science and Technology committee chooses not to vaccinate his kids

U.S. Representative Barry Loudermilk is a Republican, of course, and represents Georgia. And he’s on a House of Representatives science and technology subcommittee, apparently because (according to Wikipedia) “he holds an Associate degree in Telecommunications Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education and Information Systems Technology.”

Whatever science Loudermilk absorbed in school doesn’t seem to have become embedded in his brain, or was effaced by his Republican colleagues. For, as Mother Jones reports, he didn’t vaccinate “most” of his kids, whatever that means:

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who recently became the chair of a key congressional subcommittee on science and technology, didn’t vaccinate most of his children, he told a crowd at his first town hall meeting last week.

Loudermilk was responding to a woman who asked whether he’d be looking into (discredited) allegations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had covered up information linking vaccines to autism. He responded with a rather unscientific personal anecdote: “I believe it’s the parents’ decision whether to immunize or not…Most of our children, we didn’t immunize. They’re healthy.”

This isn’t really a surprise, since by my count, 72% of the House’s member of the full Science, Space, and Technology Committee (mostly Republicans) are outright  climate-change denialists or have voted against bills to alleviate global warming.  Some committee: we have foxes infesting the Henhouse of Science!

Here’s the incriminating video; the stuff on vaccination begins at 1:26:00. He also says that he thinks it’s the “parent’s decision whether to immunize their children.”

How embarrassing is this? I want to move to, say New Zealand—or any place where there are no Republicans.

h/t: Gregory

More on the Makayla Sault affair: mother tries to exculpate herself by pinning her child’s death on her child’s wishes

I’ve posted several times on the Makayla Sault affair, in which an 11-year-old Canadian First Nations child, stricken with leukemia, was allowed by the government and child protective services to stop her chemotherapy treatment (which in all likelihood would have cured her) in favor of “traditional” medicine—said medicine including a visit to the quackish Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida for a useless dietary regime and “cold laser” treatments.

Makayla, of course, died. And now another 11-year-old Canadian First Nations girl with leukemia, identified only as “J. J.”, has also been allowed to forego treatment, and was also taken for woo-treatment to the Hippocrates Institute. (The head doctor there, Brian Clement, has since been ordered to stop practicing medicine without a license.)

I regard this—and all government exemptions allowing parents to refuse proper medical care for their children on grounds of religion, faith, or “ethnic tradition”—as unconscionable, a privileging of religion over science, and faith over reason. But it’s far more reprehensible than other such clashes, like that between evolution and creationism, because medical-care exemptions, like vaccination exemptions, actually kill children.

There is no reason for any such “philosophical exemptions” in a modern world; the only justifiable ones are when the treatment would be more likely to hurt the child than the faith-based alternative of prayer or cold-laser treatment—a very unlikely situation!—or when conventional medical care would injure the child on genuine medical grounds, as when vaccination could hurt an immunocompromised child. It’s time to end, for once and for all, all religious, faith-based, culture-based, and “philosophical” exemptions from scientific medical care. There is no good justification for such exemptions. They are murderous and, in the case of vaccination, harmful to others who don’t opt out.

I received a link to a Globe and Mail piece about Makayla and her family from reader “lancelotgobbo,” a physician who has developed leukemia and has been public about it on this site. Lancelot sent the link to the article, “Aboriginal girl begged parents to stop chemo treatments, mother says,” with this note:

I’m afraid the family are beginning to cover up their poor decision.

And that’s what the article suggests. Makaya’s mother, Sonya Sault, is now giving public lectures, which I interpret as her trying to justify her decision to stop her child’s chemotherapy in the face of severe public criticism.  The article notes:

Doctors gave [Makayla] at most a 72-per-cent chance of survival even with an aggressive chemotherapy treatment, her mother, Sonya Sault, told an audience at McMaster University.

“She became so weak so she couldn’t even stand or sit at times,” she said.

Mr. Sault said the treatment took a heavy physical and emotional toll on the little girl.

“Are you sure I’m getting better? Are you sure we’re doing the right thing? I feel I am getting worse,” she recalled her daughter asking.

Makayla said things like “the chemo is going to kill me,” the mother said, adding that finally she begged the parents to put an end to it.

“Mom, if you have the power to get me out of here, then you have to get me out of here.”

. . . “We know that chemotherapy is not easy for anyone, but for Makayla it was devastating,” she said.

Makayla, she said, understood the “harsh reality of stopping chemotherapy,” but she wanted to try traditional medicine.

“I don’t care if I’m going to die, I don’t want to die weak and sick in a hospital,” Ms. Sault remembered her daughter telling her.

Only a 72% chance? Well, with no treatment Makayla’s chance of surviving acute lymphoblastic leukemia is 0%. What decent parent would accede to their daughter’s request to stop chemo (even if the child did make the request), if the chance of surviving was as high as 72%?

The Saults’ public breast-beating serves no purpose except to exculpate the mother and defuse public criticism.  Such talks are in fact harmful, for they may persuade other parents to do the same stupid thing to their kids. Ms. Sault’s talk is unseemly and offensive, although, of course, she has the right to say what she wants.  The Globe and Mail piece continues:

Ms. Sault spoke at an event organized by McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies Program in an effort to understand the problems between First Nation peoples and the health-care system.

“Our hearts are broken by the passing of our daughter,” an emotional Ms. Sault said before composing herself – her husband by her side.

Good going, McMaster University! Did you, by the way, counter Ms. Sault’s talk with one by a doctor, laying out the alternatives, their probabilities, and the uselessness of “alternative medicine” for curing leukemia? After all, it was your hospital that tried to insist on continuing the child’s chemotherapy.

I have little sympathy for the Saults’ grief when they had a substantial chance of avoiding their daughter’s death by allowing her chemotherapy to proceed. What they did in fact guaranteed that their daughter would die.

And this strikes me as simply disingenuous:

The mother also said she wanted to clarify “misinformation in the media” about her daughter’s treatment.

The medical staff at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton threatened to get the authorities to apprehend the girl and her two brothers and force chemotherapy treatment upon her, Ms. Sault said.

Makayla started to feel better once the chemotherapy stopped, Ms. Sault said, but she didn’t stop treatment altogether. She continued to receive treatment from her family physician, Dr. Jason Zacks, as well as an oncologist at McMaster hospital. She also received traditional medicine from a healer near her home on the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

Then the family went to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida to get away from the brewing media storm over her case, Ms. Sault said.

Florida’s Department of Health recently issued a cease-and-desist letter to the man who runs the spa, Brian Clement, for practising medicine without a licence.

Ms. Sault said Makayla didn’t go to the Florida spa for cancer treatment, only to try out a new diet that might boost her immune system. Plus, Ms. Sault said, Makayla got to relax and be a kid again, soaking up the sun and swimming in the ocean.

If the diet didn’t constitute “cancer treatment” (and she didn’t mention the cold laser treatment and vitamin injections), what is? The bit about “getting away from the brewing media storm” really incensed the reader who sent me the link, and I agree. It was a way to avoid guilt, and to pretend that they really were trying to cure their daughter. Granted, perhaps Ms. Sault didn’t understand or believe the doctors who gave her the odds that her daughter would die, but how savvy do you have to be to understand the difference between 72% survival and 0% survival? In the face of such obtuseness, the government should have stepped in and tried to save the child’s life.

 LancelotGobbo sent me these comments in an email (indented):
You might have gathered from my comments as Lancelot Gobbo (look up your Shakespeare for the character with an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other!) that I am not only a physician, but one with leukemia. It really irritates me to see people make such cowardly choices for their children, especially when primary chemotherapy isn’t so very hard to go through these days, with the availability of ondansetron. I learn this week that my chemo has only given me a partial remission, so my future is changing. Nonetheless, I would already be dead if I hadn’t done it, so I’m ahead of the game.
I replied to the [Globe and Mail] article with:
Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 6.26.26 PM
Do, please, continue to highlight the dreadful situation that children with inadequate parents find themselves in. It’s an everyday occurrence that incapable parents provide sub-standard parenting. Teletubbies are not the same as involved and competent parents, and this seems to be an issue for an enormous number of households. But letting a child decide what treatment to accept for a life-threatening disease is an abrogation of parenthood that I can’t quite seem to swallow. That wretched couple must feel dreadful, and if they don’t they ought to!

Yes, of course I’ll continue to highlight the unnecessary deaths of children due to unwarranted respect for faith. Children should not become martyrs to their parents’ religion. But we all should pitch in here—Canadians and Americans alike—for both of our countries are afflicted with this problem. The vast majority of American states, for instance, have religious exemptions for children’s medical care. Call it out when you see it, write letters to newspapers and legislators, and just do what you can. What’s at stake here are the lives of innocent children, brainwashed by their faith-addled parents. Let us not forget that this is not an abstract philosophical issue, but involves people like this:


The late Makayla Sault



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31,930 other followers