Monday, January 29, 2007

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

I don't want Muslims to think I'm deliberately busting on them in this post. I'm not singling them out, it's just that they're the ones who made the news most recently. Fundamentalists of other stripes also engage in similar acts of self-endangerment in the name of religion (the Amish and Jehova's Witnesses being notable American religious groups with medical taboos).

EDIT: My bad. I had the Amish confused with the Quakers when I first wrote the post. The Quakers are innocent of anti-vaccination hysteria.

In a Times article mentioned on the BBS, I heard that a fundamentalist Muslim doctor is advising Muslims not to let their children receive vaccinations for common childhood diseases.

Dr Abdul Majid Katme, head of the Islamic Medical Association, is telling Muslims that almost all vaccines contain products derived from animal and human tissue, which make them “haram”, or unlawful for Muslims to take. Islam permits only the consumption of halal products, where the animal has had its throat cut and bled to death while God’s name is invoked.
It's not like the world needs more anti-vaccination hysteria. Various fringe groups have emerged in recent years with conspiracy theories about vaccines being deliberately tainted to cause infertility or negligently laced with heavy metals (used as preservatives). Such claims generally don't require evidence to convince the crowds they're aimed toward, either. Among conspiracy theory crowds, lack of evidence is considered proof of a cover up.

The inevitable result of such claims, of course, is that the number vaccinated people in the targeted groups will decline, which will lead to a resurgence of easily preventable illnesses. Furthermore, the resurgence won't just be limited to the segments of the population that avoid vaccination. Since no vaccine is 100% effective for all recipients, the small percentage for whom the vaccine didn't "take" will be at greater risk of running into a carrier from whom to get the disease. The groups who subscribe to anti-vaccine propaganda will suffer the most, but they'll bring the infection rate up a little bit for everyone else, too.

Admittedly, there probably are "haram" ingredients in vaccines. Does that mean you're just supposed to ignore them and let Allah decide whether your child gets polio, measles, or mumps? Or do you use the vaccine and ask forgiveness? Allah does forgive, doesn't he? I don't know if there's an unforgiveable sin in Islam, but Dr Shuja Shafi, a spokesman for the health and medical committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, doesn't seem to think this would be one.

In terms of ingredients in vaccines, there are so many things that are probably haram, but in the absence of an alternative we are allowed to take it for the sake of our health.


Anonymous said...

Just for a clarification: where did you get the information on Quakers having "medical taboos"? As a Quaker myself, albeit one from Africa and then Australia, I have never heard this nor encountered it in Quaker writings.

Lord Runolfr said...

There have been some articles recently regarding the continued occurrence of polio in North American Quaker communities. At least over here, the Quakers commonly refuse to get vaccinated.

M said...

I think it must be just a US Quaker thing. I'm not a Quaker, but have family and friends who are (UK), and I've never heard anything about them having any issues with medical treatment of any kind.

Lord Runolfr said...

My Quaker commentors have caught me. I was getting Quakers mixed up with Amish for some reason, probably because I associate both with Pennsylvania (which may be equally inane).

In any case, it's the Amish communities in North America that have recently had some polio outbreaks, and I linked to one of the news reports.