SCMP: Why a sect’s rights must be overruled (26 July, 96)

Friday July 26 1996

A church should be allowed its beliefs, except when young lives may be harmed,

To atheists, many religious practices seem a little weird. But that is no reason for banning them and persecuting their followers.

Why stop Christians from praying and Buddhists from chanting when the rituals make them feel better and pose no threat to others? Based on their interpretation of certain parts of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions even though it might save their lives.

Yet, courts in the United States and England have ruled that their wishes must be respected even if the result is certain death.

In 1914, United States Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Cardozo ruled: ‘Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body.’ In England, the Court of Appeal has ruled that those who treat Jehovah’s Witnesses against their wishes risk assault charges. This being the case, it should perhaps be none of our business that the Church of Zion encourages its members to drink hydrogen peroxide, which it promotes as a cure-all.

As long as the church members know what they are doing and are prepared to bear the consequences, then others have no right to stop them. The safety of children of sect members is another matter.

Press reports say an elderly church member suffering from an intestinal ulcer sought treatment at Kwong Wah Hospital last week after taking 27 drops of the chemical.

Doctors said his condition required surgery, but he rejected treatment and then checked out with the help of his family.
Since the man refused treatment of his own free will, there was nothing doctors could, and should, do.

What makes the Church of Zion’s teaching a little puzzling, however, is that the supposed potency of hydrogen peroxide does not have a theological basis and the chemical is not an elixir brewed or blessed in any special way.

Church leader Reverend Leung Yat-wah said he promoted hydrogen peroxide because it was ‘healthy’ and blamed the medical establishment for conspiring to keep the ‘secret’ from the people.

According to a church publication, the chemical’s curative effect was uncovered by Dr Edward Carl Rosenow (1875-1966).
The doctor found that about 35 illnesses were caused by harmful microbodies breeding inside the human body and an effective treatment was to consume hydrogen peroxide to bring oxygen inside the body to cleanse them.

The publication also includes a long bibliography of articles and research reports which purport to confirm the medicinal value of hydrogen peroxide.

There being no convincing proof of a conspiracy, we can only see the Church of Zion’s view of hydrogen peroxide as unorthodox and accept mainstream doctors’ advice that while the chemical is a good antiseptic, it is unsuitable for internal use and has no therapeutic value.

Doctors agree oxygen can form inside the body when hydrogen peroxide reacts with local tissue. But they warn that oxygen bubbles can obstruct the blood flow to vital organs, resulting in confusion, seizures, respiratory failure and heart attacks. More concentrated hydrogen peroxide could result in stomach perforation.

What is worrying is the church publication advises members that after drinking hydrogen peroxide symptoms such as skin rash, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhoea, fever and feeling cold are side-effects of a ‘natural cleansing process’. Persevere and you will be well, it says.

That hundreds of people have accepted the chemical as a cure-all is testimony to the charisma of Reverend Leung. Indeed, although the Church of Zion only shot into prominence last week because of media reports, mainstream Christian churches have long known of its existence.

An investigative report by two students of the Baptist Theological Seminary attributed the growing popularity of the sect to Reverend Leung’s oratory skill, the superb use of audio-visual effects at sermons and the family setting of its small group gatherings.

The report’s authors, while rejecting the sect’s unorthodox teachings, called on members of the mainstream church to reflect on the sect’s success formula and consider adapting it for their own use.

The Church of Zion may be spreading what the mainstream church considers to be unusual interpretations of the Bible. But Jesus Christ was once considered a heretic. It would be a violation of religious freedom if the sect were banned.
The church’s view of hydrogen peroxide is a trickier issue. Against conventional medical advice, church members have consumed the chemical in the belief that it is good for their health, when it is not.

A church member even told the Post that she had given hydrogen peroxide to her baby.

Unlike an adult, who must be supposed to have the ability to make decisions himself, a child’s fate is often firmly controlled by his parents.

So far, the Government has rightly refrained from interfering with the sect’s activities out of respect for religious freedom.
However, when a Church of Zion member decides that all his sick child needs are doses of hydrogen peroxide, the Government must intervene to ensure no harm is done to a young life.

The burden on the official charged with the job of rescuing a child from his parents will be great. But we must plan for the worst.