A Medical Ethics Dilemma: Is It OK to Subject Ex-Soldiers With PTSD to an Exorcism… If They Say It Helps Them? January 7, 2014

A Medical Ethics Dilemma: Is It OK to Subject Ex-Soldiers With PTSD to an Exorcism… If They Say It Helps Them?

We know that too many soldiers suffer horrible mental scars. Hundreds of thousands of American troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (For a deeply affecting photo essay of one PTSD sufferer, click here.) They live, as the popular phrase goes, “battling demons.”

Army machine-gunner Caleb Daniels is one of them. His best friend and seven other members of his unit died when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. Daniels was supposed to have been on it.

The 2005 tragedy haunted him when he returned to his home in Savannah, Ga. At night, a tall, shadowy figure crept into his room. Sometimes the Black Thing would threaten to kill him; other times it would choke his dead best friend.

The dark figure, a “Destroyer demon,” punished him, he said, “for killing and for living.”

Seeking relief from his mental agony, one day he found himself at a Pentecostal retreat in Portal, Georgia — a place called the Bear Creek Ranch. The center is run by Tim and Katie Mather, who say they’ve conducted more than 5,000 exorcisms — many on former soldiers. Tim Mather is the author of a 2011 book, Prophetic Deliverance, in which he promises “freedom from demonic influences” and “liberty from Kingdom of Darkness thinking.”

According to an article in the New York Post,

[T]he retreat’s philosophy is “based in Luke 4:18, declaring the good news of the Kingdom, healing for the broken hearted, freedom for the captives, liberty for the bruised and recovery of spiritual sight.”

The Mathers believe … that “people are in bondage to a pattern of sin. Trauma is the doorway through which demons can pass.”

The three-day retreat includes food, housing, a demon-fighting workbook authored by Tim Mather, and a 30-minute exorcism.

So far, so ridiculous.

But Daniels says the experience returned him to a livable existence.

This is how it happened, he claims:

As the group surrounded Daniels and prayed, he “felt a burning sore rip open on the back of his neck. It felt as if the flesh was coming off and something was being pulled up his spine toward the burning.”

[H]e felt the “hot Jesus blood coming down over his face.” Then “a glowing thing moved down his legs.” The minister reached out his hands and announced: “Caleb, you have a reason to live.”

Daniels has been praising Jesus and the Mathers ever since, and he has recruited other ex-military PTSD sufferers to travel to Georgia and get healed. His satisfaction is more than a little odd because the purported forces of evil haven’t actually left him. In a soon-to-be-released book, Demon Camp, by novice author Jennifer Percy, Daniels — one of the main profilees — says that “his own demons haven’t been fully exorcised.”

I’m conflicted about the man’s account. On the one hand, the evil spirits he’s been fighting obviously aren’t real, and exorcisms are quasi-supernatural hooey.

On the other, if the way he experienced the Bear Creek Ranch episode is genuine, wouldn’t it be churlish if we didn’t acknowledge the apparent (partial) efficacy of his “treatment”?

For argument’s sake, let’s assume that (a) Daniels is not a faker who’s in cahoots with the Mathers to bring them more paying customers, and that (b) his experience is repeatable — that is, other ex-soldiers, too, feel lasting relief after the exorcism (neither is a sure thing).

Is the Mathers’ method ethically defensible? It’s a well-established fact that some people who are sick swear they feel better after taking a mere placebo. With a physical illness, the underlying condition isn’t actually improved and the affliction will — in most cases — progress; but with a psychosis, you could say that perception is as good as reality. The two may in fact be indistinguishable.

Is a relief-bringing exorcism of a psychotic PTSD patient something to be scoffed at and condemned — or something we’ll go along with because those improvements are real to the patient?

(Image via Shutterstock)

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