I’ve been remiss in submitting articles for Canadian Atheist recently; I’ve been busy with a new job and all the new appointments that result when you discover a new health issue. This all means I missed the opportunity to comment on the death of Makayla Sault, the First Nation’s girl with leukemia whose parents stopped her chemotherapy in favour of alternative treatments. I wrote about Makayla’s and “J.J.’s” cases here and here. In these pieces, I spoke about how Canadian institutions failed these children and in essence infantilized First Nations people in thinking they would be unable to handle challenges to their beliefs. I also pointed out that these treatments the parents refer to as “traditional medicine” were anything but, as both girls went to a charlatan in Florida, who runs the Hippocrates Health Institute (HHI), for treatments which included vitamin drinks, raw food diets and a positive attitude. The HHI is currently being sued by its staff.
Fortunately, Jerry Coyne wrote a great piece in the New Republic: Canada Lets Makayla Sault Die of Leukemia Over Religious Sensitivity.
I found this paragraph particularly poignant:
Perhaps the most odious part of this whole tragedy is that the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) has endorsed Makayla’s alternative treatment, making themselves complicit in any future deaths of this kind. On the same day Makayla died, an editorial appeared in that journal arguing that doctors must respect the desire of parents to substitute “native” medicine for scientific medicine. (Never mind that cold-laser treatment and vitamin therapy are hardly traditional medicines of Canada’s First Nations.)
People with illness look to an institution like the CMAJ to guide them in their treatment decisions. Such an endorsement of quack treatments exposes Canadians to unacceptable and avoidable risk. How many more children have to die before Canadian institutions (medical associations, hospitals, courts, government) wake up and realize they are participating in these children’s untimely demise? Does cultural sensitivity and religious tolerance trump saving a child’s life?