In recent years we’ve witnessed an unprecedented invasion of politics, religion, and pseudoscience into personal health care decisions ranging from birth control and abortion to vaccinations and end of life care. As modern medicine increasingly turns to evidence-based practice to advance the state of science and improve patient outcomes, politicians are moving in the opposite direction and giving more weight to personal opinions and partisan biases than scientific evidence. Now, a new campaign from the Center for Inquiry (CFI) wants you to see that many of these recent trends — like the relentless attacks on abortion rights, the widespread dissemination of misinformation about vaccinations, and the use of religion to justify discriminatory practices — are all part of a broader movement that threatens to undermine decades of progress in modern medicine.
Keep Health Care Safe and Secular is a new project hoping to expose the “powerful influence of religious dogma, psuedoscience, and misinformation on American health care” that is contributing to bad policy. The Center for Inquiry, a secular humanist organization that works to promote scientific reason, wants American voters to realize that many of the controversies related to health issues aren’t rooted in evidence — and in fact, that a lot of them directly contradict science. In their new campaign, CFI says they are working to “educate the public and promote health care policies based on science and facts, rather than faith and superstition.”
“At a time when corporations seek to force their owners’ religious beliefs on employees, when once-defeated childhood diseases are making a comeback because of misinformation, when people are fleeced by peddlers of useless or dangerous ‘alternative’ remedies, a campaign to keep health care safe and secular is badly needed,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI.
The campaign will focus on a range of issues including reproductive health, vaccinations, end of life care, hospital ownership, and alternative medicine and faith-based healing.
For instance, conservative lawmakers who push for further restrictions on abortion generally rely on junk science and religious objections to justify taking away women’s right to choose. The myth of ‘fetal pain’ has come up over and over again by lawmakers seeking to enact arbitrary 20-week abortion bans, despite being debunked by leading medical experts. This myth — which claims that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation — has been the subject of intense scientific scrutiny, and we now know that fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks. Nevertheless, lawmakers across the country are using the myth of ‘fetal pain’ to push for medically unnecessary and often harmful restrictions on women’s access to safe and legal abortion care.
CFI’s new campaign is a much needed counterforce to anti-choice organizations like Americans United For Life and Personhood USA, two of the groups behind the vast majority of new anti-abortion laws over the past several years. The primary strategy of these organizations is to produce and promote biased, unscientific information about abortion, and then to use this misinformation to justify legislative attacks on reproductive rights.
That legislation, including everything ranging from imposing mandatory waiting periods to tightening regulations on clinics, is essentially offering “solutions” for problems that don’t actually exist. Elected officials continue to attempt to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy and mandate alternative protocols for administering medication, all over the protests of doctors in the field, including most of the nation’s leading professional medical associations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Since most abortion restrictions are enacted at the state level, Keep Health Care Safe and Secular believes the issue is ripe for citizen engagement. They’re working to educate Americans about what’s really driving these new policies, with the ultimate goal of inspiring citizens to take action by contacting their local legislators and demanding change. The campaign will also work to establish support for evidence-based sex education programs, rather than the unscientific abstinence-only policies cropping up in states around the country.
But protecting reproductive rights is only one of the issues the campaign will focus on. They’re also taking on a range of other pressing issues, like asking the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on cancer clinics that over-promise results based on an unverified treatment method; tracking the outsized control of the Catholic Church on our hospital system; and ensuring that religious-based ideas about the sanctity of life don’t prevent Americans from having control over doctor-assisted dying, or removing family members from life support.
It’s important to point out that neither CFI, nor the new campaign, are hostile to personal religious beliefs. Their goal is not to oppose religion, but to stop the unconstitutional invasion of religion into policy-related decision-making.
“As secular humanists, we advocate for policies based on science and reason, and guided by compassion for our fellow human beings,” said Lindsay. “We believe that American health care must be safe, effective, and accessible, but it can be none of those things if it remains under assault from religious ideology and junk science. For health care to be safe, it must be secular.”
Keep Health Care Safe and Secular is a breath of fresh air for those of us who recognize the value of scientific evidence and who want our personal health care decisions to be free from the influence of partisan attacks, misinformation campaigns, and intrusive religious dogma. As a scientist myself — and also as someone who grew up in the Christian church and still identifies as a Christian — I’ve been deeply disturbed by the increasing roles of religion and pseudoscience in American politics and health care. In these times of evidence-based medicine, it is essential that all recommendations from physicians are grounded in solid scientific data. This also means that physicians’ scope of practice must not be restricted by policy nor by their employer, be it a religious organization (like a Catholic hospital), a health care corporation, or a government-funded clinic.
You see, it was only when we separated religion from science that we progressed to the era of modern medicine — the era in which we live; the era in which our life expectancy has more than doubled, and in which our lives have been made so much greater by the invention of vaccines, cancer treatments, surgical interventions, and life-saving medications. It seems blatantly contradictory to place such a low value on life — in the name of religion, nonetheless — that we would turn our backs on the very things that have allowed us to eradicate previously deadly diseases, to enjoy decades of health, and to minimize human suffering. What religion would ask us to throw all of that away? But that’s exactly what would happen if we let religious dogma seep back into our pursuit of scientific truth.
Linking religion with medicine oversimplifies very complex and different realms of human experience. It oversteps the boundaries of medicine and diminishes the power of religion. Religion doesn’t need medicine to validate itself. It doesn’t require scientific empiricism because it is based on faith. And when you mix faith with science, you serve neither and weaken both.
To learn more about the issues discussed in this article, and to find out how you can get involved in the campaign to Keep Health Care Safe and Secular, visit CFI’s new website.
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