There are arguably areas of human knowledge where Catholic bishops might be said to have some expertise: church history, perhaps, or ecclesiastical management, or Vatican politics. Generally speaking, though, they are not experienced medical professionals.
That’s not stopping the bishops of Ecuador.
Last week, a group of ten Ecuadoran bishops (representing one-third of the country’s currently serving Catholic bishops) released an open letter calling for the removal of Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos. While some of the substance of their letter deals with allegations of corruption within the country’s medical response to COVID-19, they devote a great deal of attention to one central claim: The Ministry of Health is harming people by refusing to recognize chlorine dioxide as a valid method to combat COVID-19.
In fact, the bishops allege that the Ecuadoran Ministry of Health is carrying out an organized campaign of persecution against the purveyors of chlorine dioxide:
We think that the Ministry of Health, by way of its employees and officials, appears dedicated to persecuting doctors and small distributors of chlorine dioxide, a substance proven to cure COVID-19. Many doctors know this, but combat this irrefutable knowledge, refusing to do clinical trials simply because the FDA and WHO won’t do them, nor approve [the chemical’s] use…
On various occasions, communications have been addressed to the Ministry on the subject, and their responses have been negative. For that reason we are addressing you so that, by your authority, you can stop this persecution of chlorine dioxide so that there are no more deaths of defenseless Ecuadorians who suffer from this disease because of the inefficiency of the Ministry of Health.
To state the obvious, there is no “proven” cure for COVID-19.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the letter is that it’s not entirely incorrect: It identifies examples of corruption that need to be addressed to improve the public health system. But it undermines any good points it makes by descending into pseudoscience and conspiracy theory nonsense.
Expat news outlet Cuenca High Life reported the existence of a separate document submitted by an anonymous “church-sponsored epidemiologist” who unabashedly alluded to “Big Pharma” corruption:
Although there is no evidence that it has caused any harm, apologists for the pharmaceutical industry routinely mischaracterize chlorine dioxide as ‘Clorox’ even though it is widely used to purify blood supplies, medical supplies, and municipal and bottled water. The problem, of course, is that the drug industry cannot make money from the product and therefore objects to its use.
But no one is objecting to the appropriate uses of chlorine dioxide listed here. Yes, it’s an excellent cleansing agent. Yes, it’s useful for purifying water of harmful micro-organisms. No, you shouldn’t have a glass of it with dinner.
And make no mistake, that’s what the peddlers of chlorine dioxide treatments are advocating.
In May, Ecuador’s Agency for Health Control and Surveillance (ARCSA) — roughly equivalent to America’s FDA — issued a warning about “Miracle Mineral Supplement” or MMS, which consists of sodium chlorite mixed with an activating agent to make chlorine dioxide.
That’s not persecution. It’s sound medical advice. Ingesting industrial bleach is bad for your health whether or not you’re suffering from coronavirus.
(It’s also technically a separate organization from the Ministry of Health, so I’m not sure how targeting Zevallos is expected to help much.)
The bishops of Ecuador preside over a country where four of every five citizens are Catholic. They have an audience at the ready. It’s incumbent on them to make sure they don’t overstep the bounds of their expertise.
They’re not medical doctors, and pretending to know more than the experts is hubris. More than that, it’s dangerous.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Kerri for the link)