Help and no help

Help and no help

What do you call people who fatten on other people’s misery?

Ghouls? Vampires?

How about missionaries?

Missionaries of every stripe are pouring into Haiti, proffering their own brands of material and spiritual help as well as their entire belief systems. Some of that help is the opposite of helpful.

One example, reported in Tuesday’s New York Times, is the use of “touch therapy” by Scientologists who descended on Haiti, “by which they say they realign patients’ nervous systems by touching them through their clothes.”

These patients have lost homes, families, and in many cases, limbs. They – and their doctors, who are struggling to keep them alive in horrendous conditions – need the Scientologists’ touch therapy vie a loch in kop.

It’s true that some missionary groups have a long tradition of working with the poor, sick, and elderly. But their often aggressive proselytizing – among people who don’t know where their next meal or breath is coming from – is reprehensible.

That’s one reason that the work of Israeli medical personnel in Haiti and other disaster spots is so worthwhile. They are not missionaries, but while they’re saving lives, their competence and very presence speak for Israel, without offensive propagandizing. (But as it’s said, no good deed goes unpunished. See page 37 for a particularly revolting anti-Israel canard.)

Meanwhile, with regard to Haiti and the outpouring of help and funds from all over the world, Peter Singer, Princeton University professor of bioethics, makes an interesting point. Writing on the Website of Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council, he notes that “[i]n just three days, more than a million Americans had donated $10 with the aid of text messages from their cell phones. People with very little themselves … donated food and clothes….”

“On current indications,” he continued, “the amount Americans will give to relief efforts in Haiti could surpass the $1.9 billion they gave to assist victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, which until now has stood as a record for donations to a disaster outside the United States.”

But, he points out, “The earthquake killed up to 200,000 people. Terrible as that is, it is fewer than the number of children who, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), die every 10 days from avoidable, poverty-related causes.”

Why, he asks, “do people give generously to earthquake victims, but not to prevent the much larger number of deaths brought about by extreme poverty, insufficient food, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and the absence of even the most basic healthcare?”


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