The UK is learning bad habits from the United States

Fabrice Muamba receiving emergency treatment on field.

No, it’s not how the UK is getting our bad reality TV.  We actually stole that from the BBC.  

No, it’s not getting obese from eating too many fast foot restaurants.  To use the old adage, “that ship has sailed.”  

No, it’s not religion becoming a part of the political discourse.  Oh wait, here we go.

First a little background.  During a football match (the British version, what we call soccer, something we haven’t borrowed from them), a player named Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch (field).  Only 23 years old, he had a cardiac arrest, and he was defibrillated 12 times over a 78 minute time period before his heart restarted.  The newspapers in England (not always known for their ability to control sensationalist headlines) touted that he was dead for 78 minutes, and that it was some sort of miracle that he survived.

There was an outpouring of comments, good wishes and, of course, prayers for him.  All fine and well, but real medicine and his level of overall fitness saved his life.  The facts are there were team physicians and emergency services personnel a mere seconds away.  A cardiologist who was at the game, ran onto the field to help.  He continued to receive that treatment on the way to the hospital.  And, once again, his fitness probably helped.  When most people have a cardiac arrest, they are far away from any type of significant medical assistance, and have a far greater risk of dying before receiving medical treatment. 

According to Dr Sam Mohiddin, the Consultant Cardiologist now looking after Muamba:

Fabrice (Muamba) has continued to demonstrate positive signs of recovery.  His outcome has been extraordinary as a result of extraordinary care.  He has exceeded our expectations but this remains very early in what could be a very lengthy recovery period.  The critical thing was the rapid, prompt and very effective CPR at White Hart Lane and expertise from the London ambulance service.

If this were Mississippi, we could expect that the local religious types would take credit.  Never in the UK!  But you would be wrong.  According to Amber Elliott’s blog post, MPs try to overturn ‘God can heal’ ad ban in Total Politics, a Christian group in Bath were banned from using leaflets that said:

NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!  Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction … Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness”.

The UK has something that I wish we had here in the United States:  the Advertising Standards Agency, which regulates the content (and accuracy of the content) of advertisements across various media including the internet.  In a decision,  ASA Adjudication on Healing on the Streets-Bath, the ASA stopped the Bath Christians from further discussing the matter.  One of their reasons, an important one, is that this might keep people from getting real medical treatment, because there is no evidence whatsoever that prayer has ever helped anyone.  (And please don’t present us with those few studies that show some minimal placebo effect, which we know means it didn’t work.)

Well, this move by the ASA upset some Christian politicians in Parliament from across the UK political spectrum, Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats.  Three of them wrote a letter to the ASA:

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency
21st March 2012

We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.

It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?

We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Chair, Christians in Parliament

Gavin Shuker MP (Labour)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Tim Farron (Lib-Dem)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Actually, it’s incumbent upon the religious medical charlatans to prove, scientifically, that prayer works.  All medical procedures in the US and UK require such evidence.  Back to my favorite Sagan quote:  “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”  The indisputable medical evidence supports real medicine, not prayers.  When the prayer group provides us with indisputable evidence, we’ll be sure to examine it.

But then again, I’m willing to play along with this silliness.  The American Cancer Society’s article on Faith Healing pretty much debunks it:

One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.

 And we can, once again go to Cochrane, Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health, for an evidence based review of intercessory prayer:

…although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer,the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer. We are not convinced that further trials of this intervention should be undertaken and would prefer to see any resources available for such a trial used to investigate other questions in health care.

To block the quote-miners, the takeaway is that we should not waste any further health care resources on this, not a few badly designed studies that showed some placebo effect.  Actually, Science Based Medicine rips this study as being “wishy-washy”, meaning the conclusions are not strong enough.  And they’re not.

The best response was from Martin Robbins article in the Guardian, Hapless MPs defend faith healers:

The implication of prayer-healing is that special people can demand that God heals someone, and he’ll just do it. That only makes sense if you believe that a) God is a bit absent-minded and doesn’t really notice all the sick people until some clever human points them out to him, or b) God is the fourth emergency service (the AA come fifth in this world-view), and we’re entitled customers who pay with prayer and should damn well get some service.

Either way, the message from faith-healers – and the hapless morons who support them – is clear: “Fuck God’s plan, He’s our bitch.” I’m not a Christian myself, but if I were, I think I’d be pretty frustrated with this sort of selfish, arrogant attitude, and I’d laugh in the face of people who claimed to have some divine right over His powers.

A second point worth making is that the Advertising Standards Agency are, pound-for-pound, one of the best public institutions ever created when it comes to dealing with scientific evidence. Just a quick scan of their past adjudications shows the dizzying array of evidence-based issues they’ve had to rule on, from bogus cosmetic claims to alternative medicine. MPs should be publicly supporting them for the work they do protecting consumers, not putting political pressure on them to alter their code of practice.

I’ve always thought that prayer was an awfully arrogant and self-centered method for communicating with the nonexistent gods.  An omniscient and omnipresent being wouldn’t need to have a phone call from the mere mortals.  They’d just know.  Oh well, it’s all Bronze Age silliness.

Now that the Christians are invading the political process in the UK, maybe Ken Ham and his deluded followers can head to the Jolly Old England, because apparently science denialists are taking root there too.  Hopefully they won’t, since I believe that England tossed out there religious fundamentalists in the 1600’s.  Sadly they ended up in North America.

Quoted liberally via For once, British politicians look as stupid as ours « Why Evolution Is True.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!