I took some time reviewing recent issues of the Southern Medical Journal. I have cited articles from that journal in the past because they have particular interest in articles relevant to spiritual care of patients.
In the July, 2008, issue I found two review articles by Sara H. Sinal, MD; Elaine Cabinum-Foeller, MD; and Rebecca Socolar, MD, MPH. The first is “Religion and Medical Neglect.” (Southern Medical Journal:Volume 101(7)July 2008pp 703-706) The authors note that there is little literature on the subject. They cite particularly an article from 1998 reviewing 172 cases between 1975 and 1995 thought to be related to “religion-motivated medical neglect.” The authors also note how few religious organizations might be implicated. “A total of 23 religious denominations from 34 states were involved, but 5 religious groups accounted for 83% of the fatalities: Faith Assembly (64), First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) (28), Church of the First Born (23), Faith Tabernacle (16) and End Time Ministries (12).” The article discusses the histories of Faith Assembly and Christian Science, and information regarding child health in those bodies. There is also some discussion of issues related to the medical-religious concerns of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The article also includes a brief review of the issue of religious exemptions from medical care including vaccinations allowed by some states. They note ambiguity in history and practice:
“The Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” However, in 1974 the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare required states receiving federal child abuse prevention and treatment grants to have religious exemption in cases of abuse and neglect. Within 10 years the majority of states had exemptions in the juvenile code, criminal code or both. The federal government removed religious exemption from the federal mandate in 1983, but only a few states have repealed the exemption.”
The second article is titled, “Is Religiosity Associated with Corporal Punishment or Child Abuse?” (Southern Medical Journal. 101(7):707-710, July 2008) The authors note that there is also little information in the literature on this specific topic. However, the available literature notes incidence of corporal punishment is higher among Protestants than among other Christians. They note, however, that religious practice may possibly provide a buffer for those who experience child abuse, both in their own ability to cope and in preventing victims from becoming abusers themselves.
Both articles are worth review. In addition, the Southern Medical Journal has also posted on a separate site the articles published in the journal as a part of their Spirituality and Medicine Interface Project. Articles from the project through 2007 can be accessed at the site. It’s worth the time to review the articles available there.