There is an interesting complaint that has been filed against a church in New Zealand that touches on an issue that we previously discussed. In the United States, it is common for religious figures to claim to faith heal and recently we have seen some religious business suggest that they have divinely inspired products or services to sell. We have discussed whether such pitches constitute false advertising. Now the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is the subject of a formal complaint for advertising a prayer session to heal health problems including “incurable diseases.”
The Church put out an advertisement that “For people who suffer with constant pain, deteriorating health, can’t work due to illness, incurable disease, doctors don’t know what’s wrong, dependent on pills, recovering from injury, weight problems, sick children.” That did not sit well with Mark Hanna of the Society for Science Based Healthcare who complained that the advertisement is in violation of the Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principles 2 and 3 that govern the supply of health services.
The Church has responded that it does not provide therapeutic, medical or health services or services but rather simple good old fashioned prayer meetings.
What is different is that in this complaint, the Board upheld the charges and found that the church had presented its religious beliefs in faith healing as an absolute fact and that “it may mislead and deceive vulnerable people who may be suffering from any of the illnesses listed in the advertisement.”
The board previously upheld a similar complaint against the church for an advertisement for olive oil as part of a religious cure-all treatment for everything from tumours and schizophrenia to relationship problems.
It is difficult line to draw between protestations of faith and false advertising. Some would challenge the very essence of prayer as falsely advertising that God will answer such requests for benefits great or small. How does one draw that line? Conversely, I previously discussed the double standard applied to fortune tellers who must give a disclosure and warning to customers that they are not really telling fortunes, even though many clearly believe that they are.
However, unlike fortune tellers (which at most have been accused of taking money under false pretenses or delusions), the American Cancer Society has warned that faith healing has killed people who could have been saved by modern medicine:
… available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… 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.
In addition, at least one study has suggested that adult Christian Scientists, who generally use prayer rather than medical care, have a higher death rate than other people of the same age.
However, virtually all major religions have some faith healing passages or beliefs. Many believe that such powers are true and proven. How does one distinguish such protestations of faith from false advertising, particularly when no money is demanded to attend?
Source: NZ Herald