In recent years, there have been major outbreaks of whooping cough among children in California, mumps in New York, and measles in Ohio’s Amish country—despite the fact that these are all vaccine-preventable diseases. Although America is the most medically advanced place in the world, many people disregard modern medicine in favor of using their faith to fight life threatening illnesses. Christian Scientists pray for healing instead of going to the doctor, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions, and ultra-Orthodox Jewish mohels spread herpes by using a primitive ritual to clean the wound. Tragically, children suffer and die every year from treatable diseases, and in most states it is legal for parents to deny their children care for religious reasons. In twenty-first century America, how could this be happening?Writing
In Bad Faith, acclaimed physician and author Dr. Paul Offit gives readers a never-before-seen look into the minds of those who choose to medically martyr themselves, or their children, in the name of religion. Offit chronicles the stories of these faithful and their children, whose devastating experiences highlight the tangled relationship between religion and medicine in America. Religious or not, this issue reaches everyone—whether you are seeking treatment at a Catholic hospital or trying to keep your kids safe from diseases spread by their unvaccinated peers.
Offit lived up to all of my non-fiction requirements: well-cited research, objective point of view, and a style that keeps the reader interested and wanting to hear more. He does a particularly great job of combining data, statistics, and analysis with personal stories told in a relatable way. I particularly appreciated the sympathy with which he portrays families whose children have been harmed or killed because of religious beliefs regarding healthcare. He's careful not to demonize parents or make them monsters. Instead he portrays them as people who have misunderstood and misapplied beliefs to tragic results. He doesn't agree with them or their beliefs and makes a great argument for more legal involvement in issues like vaccination, but he also doesn't villify them.
The topic in general is just fascinating to me. I love the intersection of religion and medicine and the exploration of fringe beliefs. As a Christian, I was pleased to see that Offit doesn't attack the beliefs of others, but presents arguments that would appeal to those who have very fundamental religious beliefs. He's very respectful in addressing issues of faith and mentions in his introduction how much his study of the subject led him towards a greater respect for Judeo-Christian beliefs.
If you're interested in the anti-vax movment, fringe beliefs, or the intersection of faith and medicine, this is an absolutely must-read. Offit is respectful and remains unbiased throughout, but also provides the listener with a great summary of the problem being faced while including personal stories to illustrate the damage that can be caused.