November 3, 2009

Why Watchdogs Are Necessary

If Congress had been left unattended, it's entirely possible that the health care reform bill would have wound up paying money to religious organizations for prayers.  Specifically to Christian Science churches, although they were not mentioned by name -- the actual language would prohibit discrimination against "religious and spiritual healthcare" as a form of complementary or alternative medicine.

But it's very clearly for the Christian Science religion.  It was inserted by Orrin Hatch, at the behest of deceased Senator Ted Kennedy and his colleague and former Presidential candidate John Kerry.  The Church of Christ, Scientist is based in Boston.

The mind reels. How could anyone have thought this wouldn't raise an Establishment Clause issue? That the Federal government could pay for people to engage in religious activity? Even if you want to assign the narrowest possible reading to the Establishment Clause, and the broadest possible meaning to the Free Exercise Clause, this provision is still clearly on the wrong side of that.  We subsidize religious activity enough in this country already.  You want to pray, you want to worship?  Have at it -- just don't ask me to pay for it.

Prayer is not healthcare.  Clinical trials have demonstrated, of course, that prayer has no effect whatsoever on medical treatments.  Consider, for instance, the american Cancer Society's report on the subject:

Research has also been conducted on the effects of intercessory prayer in coronary care patients. In the late 1980s, a study in San Francisco found that heart patients who were prayed for by others appeared to have fewer complications, although length of hospital stay and death rates did not differ between those who were prayed for and those who were not. A larger study at a Kansas City hospital coronary care unit reported similar findings. Although overall length of hospital stay and time in the critical care unit did not differ between groups, the group that had been prayed for had 11% fewer complications. These results suggested that prayer might be helpful when used with conventional medical care, although more research was needed to confirm that. The studies drew a great deal of public attention, and several other studies were done to confirm the findings, with mixed results. When a research group reanalyzed 14of these studies, they concluded that intercessory prayer had no effect on any medical outcomes.

In a further study, a group of Harvard researchers studied more than 1,800 patients who were undergoing heart surgery in 2006. The patients were randomly assigned to 3 groups. The first group was told that prayers would be said for them, while the second and third groups were told that they might or might not have prayers said for them. The first and second groups received prayer, and the third group did not. Complications occurred within 30 days for 59% of the first group, 52% of the second group, and 51% of the third group. Prayer did not reduce complications for those who had heart surgery in this large, well-controlled scientific study. At this point, available scientific evidence does not support claims of reduced complications in those who receive prayer.

So let's get this straight.  I'm asked to violate the Constitution so as to please a politically-favored religious group and in exchange we're going to get something that demonstrably doesn't work anyway.  Talk about lighting our money on fire!

And as the collaboration of Senators Hatch and Kerry demonstrates, this is something that transcends partisan lines.  Fortunately, this thing got stopped in its tracks, at least in the House version of the bill.  How hard will the Senate fight to keep this in the reconciled bill?  Hopefully, not at all.  But one wonders.

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