Questioning Faith On The Front Lines Of The Ebola Outbreak

Asking medical missionaries of various religions to separate their practice from their faith asks them to deny the very reason for their service

“I was raised to revere missionaries and support them. Over the years, many of my friends in the medical profession have given their time and talents to missionary hospitals around the globe. It never occurred to me that someone might consider medical missionaries to be pressuring “their patients, at moments of maximum vulnerability and desperation, to convert.”

 

Earlier this month, Slate writer Brian Palmer asked whether Americans should “worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries.” “It’s great that these people are doing God’s work,” wrote Palmer, “but do they have to talk about Him so much?”

Palmer winds through general questions about data related to missionary medicine, quality of care, and lack of oversight before settling on the anemic conclusion that we should “stand aside and let God do His work” for lack of better options.

Palmer’s piece has hung in the back of my mind for days. I was raised to revere missionaries and support them. Over the years, many of my friends in the medical profession have given their time and talents to missionary hospitals around the globe.

It never occurred to me that someone might consider medical missionaries to be pressuring “their patients, at moments of maximum vulnerability and desperation, to convert.”

The issue is extremely salient in light of the West African Ebola outbreak that now carries global implications. Physicians Richard Sacra and Kent Brantly both contracted Ebola while working as medical missionaries in Monrovia, Liberia. Dr. Brantly has been discharged from care while Sacra remains in treatment.

Palmer reminds me of the countless bureaucrats I have encountered suffering from a severe disconnect between their good intentions and the reality facing those they seek to regulate. Palmer notes that medical missionaries need oversight, quality controls, and even mentions the need for stronger malpractice laws.

The medical missionaries I know echo Palmer’s concerns. Most would love more data, patient histories, facilities, medical staff, and medication. The only problem is that operating in third world nations renders those luxuries conspicuously absent. Asking for a more robust malpractice environment in the virtually nonexistent court systems where many medical missionaries operate is like emphasizing the need for more secure window locks on a house without a front door or a roof.

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