Are Mormon missionaries being denied health care? How Slate dropped the ball

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Slate screen shot 10.14.15Yesterday I was disenchanted to discover a Slate piece so slanted it made me want to go do something radical. Like turn Republican. Or stop reading Slate, which I typically enjoy and learn from.

Yes, the article is that disappointing.

Mormon missionaries, it claims, are being routinely denied access to medical care if they get sick while on the mission field.

Since the Slate article is based entirely on anecdotal evidence with no hard statistics in sight, I figured, “Hey! This is now the standard of journalism.” So I called Jake Blackwelder, a young man in my ward who just returned from his mission to Malaysia, for some anecdotal evidence of my own.

While in Malaysia, Jake was hospitalized for dengue fever, and also came down with H1N1 and some kind of weird stomach infection.

Oh, and right at the end of his mission—just when his mom, who is a good friend of mine, was about to breathe a sigh of relief after all his medical ups and downs—Jake got hit by a car (!) and had to be hospitalized again, this time for a broken clavicle.

But that’s where the drama ends, because he had no trouble obtaining medical care, his mission president was fully supportive, and there was no stigma attached to his hospitalizations. Case closed.

“No one is chaining you to your desk,” he says about mission life. “It’s always your choice. If you need to go to the hospital, you can just go.”

Obviously, I found the Slate piece inadequate and one-sided. And if it were being billed as an op ed or a blog post, that would be par for the course. Instead, Slate pitched it yesterday as some kind of groundbreaking effort in investigative journalism. Here is the press release:

In a stunning investigatory story, Mark Joseph Stern unearths a horrifying and essentially unknown aspect of Mormon missionary culture — The LDS Church counsels strongly against active missionaries seeking medical help, and Mormon authority figures often go so far as to block access to health care and punish those who receive it. This has resulted in dozens of horror stories as outlined in Mark’s piece, irreparable physical and mental health damage among many, and, with 80,000 Mormon men and women currently serving on 418 different missions around the world, many of them in far flung, rural regions of developing countries, it means that a lot of people are currently in danger.

So according to the pitch, this story is “horrifying” (how could it not be, when based on “dozens of horror stories”?) because the LDS Church is “actively” blocking missionaries from obtaining needed medical care.

(I should add that those missionaries are all male. Although the fact that sister missionaries also exist is mentioned in passing, not a single one was quoted in the story.)

Slate maintains that the LDS Church “declined to comment at all” on this article and would not discuss its approach to providing health care for missionaries.

Fijian LDS missionaries. © 2015 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fijian LDS missionaries. © 2015 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

And that’s odd, since the Salt Lake Tribune did an interesting story on this two years ago and did get Church cooperation.

For example, the Trib learned that the percentage of early-return missionaries (ERMs) has stayed steady at around 1.5 percent, but the surge in the number of missionaries has led to proportionally more cases of early returns. To help their transition, the Church has put together “a team of doctors and psychologists” who follow their progress and offer counseling.

The Trib also reports on an academic psychological study of 348 ERMs that should have been of interest to the Slate reporter, but that evidence too is nowhere to be found.

The saddest thing is that if the Slate article had been well-researched and balanced, it might actually have done some good.

Even though its total reliance on one kind of personal story can’t pass for responsible journalism, that doesn’t mean the interviewees’ experiences aren’t true and important. They don’t represent the whole picture, but they deserve a wide hearing.

I recognize some truths buried in the sensationalized language of the Slate piece, including the idea that early-return missionaries can feel stigmatized in Mormon culture — especially if they have left the field for mental health reasons — and that gay missionaries are sometimes unfairly sent home. There has been a lot of pain.

Those are issues that Mormons should talk about—and are talking about (see here and here and here)—even though Slate insinuates that such conversations can occur only behind closed doors.

This piece had the opportunity to contribute to those (open and entirely Google-able) conversations. But because it wants to masquerade as a “stunning investigatory story” while making no effort to provide any other point of view, those opportunities are lost in hyperbole.

There are no counterexamples of missionaries like Jake who got sick while serving, obtained prompt medical care, and subsequently recovered on the field. That would not be a sufficiently “horrifying and essentially unknown” story, because those stories are boring. (Sorry, Jake.)

For the record, the LDS missionary handbook (also neglected in the Slate article) tells missionaries that “If you need medical care, call your mission president immediately.” If even that process is too cumbersome in an emergency, you should “get help immediately and then inform your mission president as soon as possible.”

That hardly sounds like the Church is blocking access to medical care, even if a few fanatical mission presidents (or fellow missionaries) have stupidly done so. Those incidents are terrible and need to stop, but they are hardly the norm.

Slate can do better than this.

 


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  • Dan the Mormon

    On my mission to Costa Rica from 2003-2005, I never had a problem seeing a doctor or getting medication when needed, neither did my companions. I visited the hospital once for my own issues and a couple of times with companions who had issues. I’m not sure if Costa Rica was well equipped to handle mental health issues, however, and it seemed that if a missionary developed serious mental or physical health issues they were sent home. It is true that there is a stigma to being sent home early on a mission, but my sense is that the stigma is lessening. My mission president was very supportive of us getting medical care if we needed it.

  • Nathan

    I was similarly disappointed in what passed for journalism with Slate’s article. Thank you for taking the time to provide a necessary challenge.

  • My first month on the mission (September 2008) I had problems with severe back-spasms. I called the “mission Mom” and she immediately gave me the number to the mission Doctor. Within the hour I had a filled prescription for pain relief and a muscle relaxer. The pharmacist told me that I had gotten the best muscle relaxer available.

    Fast forward to October of 2009. My companion and I both caught H1N1. We were told to go to the doctor and, if necessary, get a prescription. Once we found out we had H1N1 we were told by the Mission President to not leave our apartment until we were 100% better.

  • A necessary article, for sure. I just wish Stern would have used more objective language and more than just some anecdotal experiences. This is something that should be read by everyone.

    My experiences were always pretty good – I had one instance where a nasty bout of street food wrecked my intestines and I had to go to Seoul to see a doctor…who didn’t do much, but I got to go to Seoul (a big deal for a missionary in the farmlands of South Korea).

    However, there seemed to be a feeling of “Suffering for Christ” in many missionaries, a bit of a “superman” complex, and undoubtably peer pressure in getting out, no matter how bad of shape you are in. Based on my experience, you went until someone told you that you shouldn’t (whether it be a companion, someone in a higher hierarchal position than you, or a mission president / wife). That kind of culture really is destructive.

  • I served a mission in Germany in the late 90s and it was not easy to obtain medical care through mission channels. Missionaries were told they were lazy or lacked faith or were not obedient. So when I came down with bad allergies and needed to see a doctor, I just went. I didn’t ask for permission because I knew I’d be put through the ringer.

    I had companions who took the same route I did. I saw others attempt to gain permission through the mission office and they were told to pray, read their scriptures and work harder. The article, although unbalance, resonated with me.

  • Seth R.

    Jana, some of your articles may have been irritating me as of late, but I think you’re spot on with this one, and appreciate the balance you brought to this.

  • Seth, thank you for letting me know.

  • Lewis Craig

    We have missionaries living with us. They have a nurse they can call 24-7. Even years ago when I was on a mission, I had a companion who spent time in the hospital. Missionaries may tend to tough it out, but lack of health care is pure mythology.

  • Hypatia

    My husband served in South America and at one point he was denied access to his medical card by mission leaders, making it difficult to get to the hospital on his own. He had dengue and numerous other health issues on his physically brutal mission, and he only got treatment half the time. Just because it works in some areas doesn’t mean it’s great in others.

  • Jana, Thanks for a thoughtful piece, as always. I too was disappointed by the original article During fieldwork for my PhD in medical anthropology, I listened to complaints by missionaries of over protective leaders as they were regularly given unnecessary shots to prevent malaria although the parasite had been eradicated in the area. I lived in a village where Mormon missionaries were not allowed to eat the fish because of fear of parasites. (I had no problems again.) I had friends serve in Ghana as senior Mormon missionaries (over 65) during the Ebola outbreak, who were kept inside for weeks on end. My observations were that leadership tended to be overly cautious. This is not always the case, of course. My elderly mother contracted a serious illness while serving as a missionary in Thailand and faced an insensitive Mission President. But it wasn’t Church policy, it was stupidity and arrogance that drove him. Friends serving missions in Protestant denominations face similar issues.

  • Gunner miller

    You said “Just because it works in some areas doesn’t mean it’s great in others”. That is the problem. The church has nurses or mission wifes do it for the most part, and they lack a comprehensive plan or program. Slate reached out to the church and the church did not make a statement. It could have come out on top and said they will look into this but they dropped the ball. I know of a member in my ward that is having long term illness related problems due to no real healthcare while on a mission.

  • Of course some missionaries receive immediate and some don’t. There are hundreds of different missions and mission presidents and every case will be different.

    The problem is that in most cases, an overworked man or woman with no medical background is in charge of whether a missionary can see a doctor or not. Missionaries need a direct way to receive medical attention when they need it without going through possibly biased or reluctant mission leaders.

  • immediate care*

  • David

    While serving a mission, I started experience some anxiety. I called the mission president and asked to go see a counselor for one visit, and he said he would check with church medical and call me back. About an hour later he called back and told me that mission medical decided I needed to go home, got that decision approved by a member of the 12, and that a taxi was already on its way to take me to the airport. I was stunned at the decision especially since no one talked with me before making it. In short, 1.5 hours after asking to go seek medical treatment, I was standing in the airport awaiting my plane home and in horror of what waited me in the LDS community.

  • David

    In addition, while in the airport and desperately trying to get church medical to change their decision. I was able to speak to a doctor and after 20 minutes of interviewing me he told me that the decision to send me home was wrong but that since a 12 had approved the decision, it was final. I was instructed to get on the plane and go home without an honorable discharge.

  • Sid Arthur

    I served less than 20 years ago in the southern hemisphere, where dengue and other nasty bacterium and parasites thrived. The mission was in Australia, so you would think that adequate medical needs would be available. Because of the size of the mission, the mission Dr. would be on the phone more often than seeing missionaries. It was expensive to fly for 3 hours to see missionaries in the next zone over. I came down with an insane fever with sheer pain throughout my body for six weeks, continually waiting for the OK to go to the hospital. (The sickness hit the hardest the day after getting my mandatory flu shot.) After many trips over a 14 year period to the best andrologist that money could buy, his conclusion was that I was struck with something on my mission, most likely being affected by a two-week fever. My marriage has heavily suffered because of the ordeal, especially in a society where childbearing has its own cultural status in the church.

  • Kyle B

    Jana – thanks for the post. I hadn’t seen the Slate article, but I’m glad you wrote your response. However poor the journalism by Slate, the anecdotes (and the few in these comments) are still troubling – apparently there are some serious issues with access to healthcare for missionaries when there should not be.

    But I’d also add that what the Slate article describes is not consistent with my experience (granted, I was in the United States and had a doctor for a mission president), and I knew missionaries that received great medical care (including for mental health issues) without criticism and while active in the mission field. I have also never heard stories like this from any RM friends.

    As poor as the Slate article is, I hope it brings attention to whatever isolated (I hope) issues there are with access to medical care for missionaries.

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    I have an in-law who served a mission, but never wanted to leave her apartment. She was given good companions who she threatened, had counseling, and was even advised to participate in weekly calls to her mother. There is no quick treatment for a personality disorder, but they tried everything they could. I was disappointed that the article implied total inflexibility and appreciate Jana for calling out the inaccurate and validating the cases that were mishandled. We all want fewer cases mishandled.

  • Rich Baptisto

    Meningitis swept through and really messed up a few of our missionaries in the south pacific. All of them either fell away from the church fatherless or on rare occasion, be fortunate enough to find a child to adopt. It’s hard to get proper medical attention in some areas. It was ‘If you can’t get better from a blessing, then something is wrong in your life.’ It’s wrong that those we lift up and admire the most in the church are treated like indentured servants in some areas. I feel most for the brethren who are only left by themselves with no children excited to see them after church is over, just because he is left to suffer when there is plenty of medicine that could easily fix the problem. That kind of grief can be avoided…

  • Steve

    I left “the church” a few years ago, because of doctrinal, historical and political issues. However as an active member I served as a mission president in Europe as one of my many callings. My wife is an RN/LCSW and was an excellent triage manager. Both she and I were very concerned about the health of our missionaries and never once did we discourage missionaries from seeking medical care including hospitalization. We had a fair number of arthroscopic surgeries and a couple of hospitalizations for more serious problems. We were over seas so family insurance did not cover, and I was inclined to use the private system for these services. We maintained accounts with pharmacies, any and all needed medications were provided by the mission. Never once did any member of the Area Presidency or anyone else ever say a single word about the expense. I simply reviewed the bill and handed it to my financial secretary to mail a check. The SLATE article seems bizarre to me.

  • Steve

    I think the level of health care in missions is entirely influenced by the mission president there at the time, and so for that reason I hope policies are more formalized. I have no idea where this notion of being against health care, or condemning a missionary for being sick comes from, but I don’t think that is the attitude of church leadership in general. I never experienced or perceived that. It was very clear to the missionaries in our mission that if they had any issue at all they were absolutely encouraged to call the mission home. They did not have to go through any “chain of command” for health care issues. The Slate article does not resonate with me at all, either as a young elder or as president.

  • Steve

    I am sorry that happened to you. To be sent home so abruptly like that, I promise your mission president was behind it and stabbed you in the back. He may have tried to lay it at the feet of someone in the missionary department, but I promise you they just went along with what he wanted to do. Not all mission presidents are created equal but all of them understand the shame involved in coming home early. I think he might have been a dick.

  • Maddy

    As others have stated, healthcare or lack of it can vary from mission to mission as a result of resource scarcity or differences in implementation by mission leaders.

    A side note:
    My understanding is that the church only covers expenses for injuries and illnesses that occur in the mission field–not pre-existing illnesses/injuries.

  • E

    I’m a medical doctor practicing in Salt Lake City. I also served a mission in the 90’s in the US. I see a lot of prospective missionaries before they are called and a lot after they return. I think it has to be rare for a missionary to be denied appropriate medical care. I have not seen it and in fact, like some others, I think some church leaders may err on the side of caution.

  • Tom

    Physician here. Access to healthcare was one of my only beefs with my mission president’s wife.

    I served stateside 1999-2001. Missionaries were routinely told by our mission mom that they were fine, even if they had health concerns. There was instruction on several occasions at zone conference about not going to the ER unless you are dying. I had arch problems and asked to see or consult with a doctor (I would have accepted phone consultation with the mission doc) and I was told not to go. The next day she told me to buy a certain kind of insole replacement. I did and it helped, but there was DEFINITELY a culture of not seeking healthcare while we were missionaries. I am not aware of any psych care in my mission. People were sent home for that.

    The training on ER visits was fallacious. If you sustain an injury that is threatening to limb or eyesight, it is not LIFE threatening but must be treated emergently

    I wonder if this is worse in the states. I hope it’s better now

  • Tom (aka “Casey”)

    I’m the gay missionary mentioned in the final page of the Slate article AND I served in the same mission as Jake Blackwelder, the acquaintance whose positive experience you cite, so I have some insight into the topic. It’s true that most sick missionaries receive ample care, and perhaps Mark Stern should have emphasized that more, but that doesn’t make Slate wrong to report that many missionaries do not.

    Regarding the Singapore/Malaysia mission: I had an entirely different experience from Elder B. with my own (admittedly more minor) health problems, and we had the same mission president. I had no power to choose when or how to treat my health problems because Sister M., the mission president’s wife, didn’t understand the urgency, perhaps because I was thousands of miles from the mission office. Also, the fact that Elder B. was hit by a car is alarming because our mission has a long history of elders getting hit and sometimes killed on bikes. Will they ever replace bikes with…

  • Joni

    I read the article and was surprised to find that it wasn’t heavily biased as I’ve come to expect from Slate. I’ve got to disagree with Ms. Reiss – anecdotal evidence about the young man from her ward doesn’t negate the anecdotal evidence shared by the RMs in the story (and on the Sick RMs site). In a church culture that is HEAVILY dependent on leadership roulette, it’s not al all surprising that one missionary would have no problem getting treatment for a medical condition where another elder in a different mission would be denied or even shamed and ridiculed.

    I liked that the Slate article pointed out several times that our church is not at all averse to medical or even psycological treatment. As they stated at the end, it’s not about belief or even money, it’s largely about culture. Ms. Reiss has often turned a critical eye on Mormon culture (as have I), so it’s definitely fair game.

  • Bryan

    I can only wish that the church discuraged medical care for missionaries. One day in my mission I got a stomachache. I tried to explain to my Japanese companion what was wrong. He called the mission president and said something in Japanese and the next thing I knew I was in the hospital getting a colonoscopy. After a day of testing they told me I had eaten some bad eggs.

  • When we encounter problems with the Church, they are always with the Church. The Doctrine is perfect. It’s just when leadership or members ignore or reject doctrine that we have problems. Thus, all real issues with the Church, being pockets of apostasy from the religion, are either a) failures of leadership or b) failures of lay members. If mission presidents are lay members, which to me they are a type of hybrid, then this is a fully members’ failing. There is no reason to hold the religion or even the Church as a whole for people doing stupid things. Even if that is a lot of people doing a lot of stupid.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Go with your first instinct and turn Republican. 😉

  • In reading the comment section of this article the Slate article wasn’t so far off base. What troubles me most is how some of the missionaries were evidently told the reason for their illnesses is they weren’t righteous enough.

    Those accusing should pay careful attention to Romans 2:1, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

    The fact is none of us are righteous. Romans 3:10-12, As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

    So where is our hope? Romans 3:21, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/definition-of-grace

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Or do you think that there might be some possibility of additional details relevant to the event that aren’t being fully reported here? Before you say that a mission president “might have been a dick” (gee, is that the way you talk now?) possibly you could suspend judgment since, as they say, there are two sides to every story and you’ve only heard one. It is distressing to see how often people give credence to, and even play up, every critical first-person account without having the fairness, balance or judiciousness to think that there could be other factors or clarifications that could be cited if somehow the other side could be heard. I’m mindful that this is impossible with anonymous and unspecific (as to time and place) stories posted on the Internet, which is why (as Jana’s essay observes) journalism should be held to a higher standard than blog commentary is.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So you had “minor” yet “urgent” health problems (?) and the mission president’s wife … did what exactly? Or failed to do what exactly? I get that you want to slam these people, but so far your personal story seems pretty vague. Naturally you are not under any obligation to disclose personal health or other matters – you’re entitled to privacy – but on the other hand you claim here that “many missionaries” do not “receive ample care,” citing only your own experience with minor but urgent health problems of unspecified nature. But you don’t describe the problems or the treatment you received, if any, other than to say that the mission president’s wife was not smart enough to understand your needs. That seems unfair.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Dave knows that his comment to an earlier article was deleted for trolling and so he is trying to be a little sneakier here. But too sneaky by half, in my view. He opines that the Slate article “wasn’t so far off base” (?) as he transitions into a discussion of grace … offered because Dave thinks, wrongly, that Mormons don’t understand grace. Which is both wrong and completely unrelated to the topic of the original essay.

  • Joni

    It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to root out and eradicate the stupid. 🙂

  • Jack

    Of course that is always the case. You only get to hear one side of the story most of the time, especially on the internet. If we followed your advice, no one would ever be able to offer any opinion except, “interesting, i wonder if the other party saw that situation differently. Better reserve judgement until they happen to randomly chime in on the comment board.” I see no problem in making a judgement based on the details provided while reserving the right to rescind that opinion if the facts change. Based on the details provided, I would concur that the mission president was probably a dick. However, if there were other extenuating circumstances not reported here, that assessment might change.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Jack, thanks for your reply. You’re right that my concern for fairness could lead to comments (like mine here) suggesting that judgment be reserved since only one side is being presented. I agree with you that there might not be any problem making a judgment “based on the details provided while reserving the right to rescind [or perhaps modify, we could say] that opinion if the facts change.” My concern is that Steve (above) didn’t qualify his anatomical disparagement or his assessment that the mission president “stabbed you in the back” by reference to the possibility of mitigating factors; and I see too often that stories like this are uncritically accepted. For myself, I don’t assume bad faith or bad motives by those serving as mission presidents, and question accounts that seem to imply a willful disregard for missionaries’ well being in those who serve in that capacity.

  • Cynthia Nielsen

    We also supplied each apartment with a notebook containing information on recommended medical self-care and the best available local facilities and personnel.
    The program includes an army of consulting physicians and mental health professionals from around the world through a toll-free Missionary Medical 24-hour helpline. Our greatest medical challenge was that the in-country medical system ran on bribes and even the best facilities were sadly lacking. We tried our best to compensate, but periodically sent missionaries to Germany or, if necessary, back to their homes. Less-than-ideal circumstances can be part of the price we who serve pay to share the gospel with all the world. [continued below]

  • Cynthia Nielsen

    Apart from my own experience, the church-wide program I have mentioned, and stated church policy mentioned by Jana above, please note that the World Health Organization’s annual mortality rate for young people worldwide in this age range is approximately 200/100,000 population. LDS missionary deaths do not come close to that.

    Of course, we can always do better, but to imply that the Church blocks or denies health care, or somehow wants to have sick and unhappy missionaries, defies the truth of the matter, as well as simple logic!

  • Cynthia Nielsen

    1 of 3: As a recently returned mission president’s wife, I can tell you that there definitely is a comprehensive plan and program to help missionaries receive appropriate care. We had specific instruction and materials at the Mission President’s Training in Provo as well as periodic followup at the yearly mission presidents’ area seminars.
    The Area Medical Advisor sent frequent, situation-specific suggestions and guidelines, traveled our whole mission to help vet the best local facilities, and was available 24/7. We talked frequently, almost daily, at times. Missionaries who needed it, had direct access.
    The President and I followed up on the church-wide program as stated in the Missionary Medical Guide (given to each missionary) by constantly teaching principles of preventative care such as nutrition, exercise and sleep, the symptoms of depression, culture shock, safe food and water, how to access facilities, contagious diseases, preventing accidents and even the dangers of dog…

  • Cynthia Nielsen

    Sorry these ended up out of order. The above is #2 of 3, and below is #3, then #1.

  • Jenner

    Wow I can tell you to be amazed at how many falsehoods are spread by liberal magazines about the Mormon faith. I can give you two experiences, both very relevant. I served in Spain 25 years ago. During that time I got a hernia, and I was hospitalized within two days had surgery at the top clinic in Madrid in the church paid for all of it. More recently my daughter served in the Philippines and got an eye infection and became partially blind. The mission presidents WIFE drove 2 hours at two in the morning to pick her up and take her to Manilla – a 3 Hour drive away to see the top ophthalmologist in the country. Gratefully, through prayers, faith, expert care and many other miracles, her vision was fully restored.

    But taking an opposite view, just think about the assertion that everybody acts out of self interest. The church would not do well to have its missionaries suffer with bad health. It is in their own best interest, to spread their dogma, by having healthy missionaries… Duh

  • Collin Simonsen

    Biased?

    “Bias?” I served under 3 mission presidents and their bias was to keep their missionaries safe and return them home happy. They were all under pressure by parents to assure that that happens.

    As a missionary I saw several missionaries receive prompt medical care even in poverty stricken Madagascar. And my attitude was that I accept the risks of illness for God and I’m proud of that. I was there to serve the Malagasy people who sometimes lived in dirty situations. I accepted that risk, proudly.

  • Collin Simonsen

    I thank you for being kind and reasonable even though you’ve left the church.

  • Kristie Partridge

    My husband served a mission in Tampa Florida in the early 90s….he tore up his knee playing basketball on p-day…..the church sent him to Miami to an LDS doctor who was an orthopedic surgeon for sports figures from the Dolphins and the Heat….he took very good care of him.

  • Jane

    It wasn’t just the lack of facts in the Slate article. The entire tone and the accusations against the church were appalling, but not surprising.

    My son did experience some problem getting healthcare on his mission in a western state. I don’t know who the problem was, but he lay sick in his apartment for over a week with a high fever and such severe pain he could not stand up, before he was finally taken seriously and taken to a doctor, which resulted in minor surgery, medication and a lot of subsequent follow up. On top of that, no one in the mission informed us. I found out what was happening because a dear sister in the ward where he was serving called me to let me know.

    So yes, there are some gaps that need to be addressed.

  • Allen
  • While my daughter was on her mission she developed benign breast tumors that had to be removed. Thank heavens it happened on her mission because we didn’t have heath insurance at the time. The church covered all her medical expenses for the removal surgery and the follow up visits. Even more miraculously, her companion had worked as a RN and was able to help take care of her during her recovery.

  • Tom (aka “Casey”)

    That’s because there’s a 1,000 character limit to comments and I already had to cut stuff out. Also, this stuff is sort of embarrassing, ok? My most frustrating “minor but urgent” health problem was planar warts on my foot that made walking and biking extremely painful but still enabled me to work. It took months and months to resolve that because Sister M. thought her own home remedies would work better than a health care professional.

    By the way, you seem awfully quick to dismiss my opinion because of a) a perceived inconsistency between “minor” and “urgent” and b) a lack of evidence. I get that this is the internet, but maybe try not to be so paranoid? Also, I never claimed “that ‘many missionaries’ do not ‘receive ample health care'”—I merely claimed that Slate was not wrong to report so. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

  • Tom (aka “Casey”)

    This is tragic and hilarious.

  • C

    I have had 6 kids serve missions and some who got sick, some who got injured, some who had to have surgery and the church was very helpful through all of the processes. Just like in the rest of our lives, sometimes when we present our ailments, we are not able to express ourselves adequately or other humans do not understand us adequately. This does not diminish the illness or injury but sometimes we need to find a better way to communicate our situation. This is not really anyone’s fault, it is part of being human and learning to communicate better with each other. It doesn’t mean anyone is trying to deny us anything.

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  • Garson Abuita

    Speaking as a non-Mormon and just from reading the comments, it sounds like missionaries need prior approval from the church, or from those church officials overseeing their mission, before seeking medical care. Is that the case, and if so why? Is it just a matter of the church paying for it?

  • Brent

    Am I wrong: When I, and subsequently some of our kids, went on missions, we had to provide evidence of our own insurance. Even when something happened overseas on the mission, it was our own insurance that was billed if something medical happened, not the church providing care. Has this changed?

    Also, it seems that something beyond “in the field” care is missing from this discussion. Things happen on missions which carry over beyond returning home. And again, it’s the family that gets stuck with the medical costs. It seems to me if someone is going to devote, voluntarily, two years of their life to an institutional cause, that institution should be willing to cover medical costs associated with that commitment. Am I off base on this?

  • Roger

    Some mission presidents do a great job of making sure their missionaries get adequate care, and others are down-right awful. When my wife told her president about a medical issue, her mission president told her that he hated sister missionaries because they were all too fragile and were all malingerers and that if it were up to him, he’d send them all home.

    The systemic issue is that missionaries shouldn’t need to get permission from their religious leaders to seek medical care. The even bigger problem is that they have a religious obligation to follow his medical advice and have no channel to appeal his decision or get a second opinion.

    Missionaries should have the same right to healthcare that college students get: give them each an insurance card and allow them to go to the doctor when they think they need to. Missionaries should be able to seek guidance on whether to get care directly from a triage nurse rather than from their religious leader.

  • The doctrine is perfect? As in how the Book of Abraham was perfectly translated from papyrus? That was later proven to not match the Book of Abraham in the slightest?

    You have an odd definition of “perfect.”

  • Danny S

    The “my anecdote beats your anecdote” debate misses the larger and more important point. Aren’t these leaders supposed to be inspired? Yet there are wildly disparate responses to missionary health problems from those who seek the guidance of “the spirit”. Others have touched on this. How can there be such variation by those who are “inspired”. Is it because the whole notion of inspiration as taught by the church is flawed? That feelings, stray thoughts, warm coziness, etc., are actually pretty lousy ways of getting to truth? Some bishops will excommunicate where others will place on informal probation. Missions are just another area where the missionary is subject to “leadership roulette”. One mission president might be a benevolent and progressive leader whilst another might be a hard charger who leaves bodies in his wake.

  • natalia

    i served on temple square. the only doctor we had was a senior missionary gynecologist that whould give the same medicin for all the sikness….i had a hard time getting used to all the food ..and i was often not too good..he had no idea how to do a diagnosis. and then i was in chicago with knee problems and my mission president suggested me to take part of HIS tratment for rhumatismes of a 60 years old men. off corse i didnt get better and my problems got worst..

  • Sheryl

    2 of 2. It’s possible that your mission president’s feelings were hurt that you didn’t trust him enough to explain your feelings to him yourself. (Yes, “old” people have feelings, too.) In his shoes, I would have started wondering what else you might be hiding. Under the circumstances, your very understandable decision to stay closeted seems to have backfired and let to a deeply disappointing outcome.

    According to Slate, you’re attending BYU, still closeted, and miserable. No wonder you hate it–it has to be horrible to know that you’ve signed an Honor Code that you aren’t committed to living! I hope you’ll consider transferring to a different school, and possibly opening up to a few more people about your feelings. (I couldn’t tell if you’ve discussed this with your parents yet. If not, I hope you have some family member you trust enough to be totally honest with.)

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Touchy. But I appreciate the additional detail. I’m not sure I can tell the difference between saying that Slate “is not wrong” to report that “many missionaries” do not receive ample health care and making that assertion positively, since you proceed to cite your experience and tell us you were a source for the article. But, you know, have it your way. I completely understand now how wrong Sister M was for not treating your plantar warts as a medical emergency requiring immediate medical intervention; too many people rely on unproven alternative medicine therapies, and that includes Mormons too. They probably didn’t have a drug store with Dr. Scholl’s treatment kits nearby. Still don’t think it makes a case for how missionaries are denied access to health care.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Apparently you don’t understand the word doctrine in this context. Too bad. And nothing like that has been proven other than a fragment of the same scroll doesn’t relate to the translated portion.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Well, if you’re on a mission, you’re kind of out of your network, right? So some arrangements need to be made and if you want someone to pay for the care, you have to let them know. Does that make sense? Also, your mission is a very disciplined form of service; if you need to go offline for a while, someone needs to know that. Hope that helps.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    The flaw is in your understanding of what inspiration means.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    (Footnote.) In fairness, I guess I should add that according to a well-respected medical source (Google) (that’s a little humor people), plantar warts are “usually self-treatable,” and that “treatments include over-the-counter remedies, salicylic acid, freezing medicine, or surgery.” So I’m not sure that I should have criticized the mission president’s wife (probably very well meaning?) for thinking that other treatment options could be considered before sending you home for tests at Huntsman or whatever it was we think the Church should alternatively have done for your urgent wart removal needs. But of course I wasn’t there and I agree a foot wart can make it hard to ride a bike.

  • Danny S

    Yes, TTSIMW, by all means instruct me. And while you’re at it, send a note to the top church leaders and also instruct them so that we have no more miscues like the entire Q15 being fooled by the forgerer Hoffman, or a century of uninspired comments on race and the priesthood. Need I go on? Like the church’s total balls up on Prop 8 that ended with the church paying fines for election wrongdoing? Or go back to see how Joe was inspired when he declared the Kinderhook plates genuine or when he received a revelation to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada? Looks like a lot of people need your expert guidance.

  • Dale

    Our son was diagnosed with cancer while on his mission 20 years ago. I can’t imagine things have changed. It’s the same church. He was no longer on our insurance because he was no longer a student. The Church paid for the surgery he needed to have right away while still on his mission. Then, with only 4 months left on his mission and knowing he probably wouldn’t be able to go back, he had to come home for treatment. Still the Church continued to pay for all of his medical expenses after he came home (chemo, hospital stays, tests, doctors’ visits) for the next three months. There was nothing that said they had to do that. It was over $300,000! It bothers me that anyone would say that the Church doesn’t take care about the healthcare of its missionaries. Absolutely not true!

  • On my mission, I experienced one painful but by no means life threatening medical emergency. I went to the mission Doctor that day and received high quality care. Other missionaries had more serious illnesses. They were hospitalized in the nicest clinic in the country. If that clinic could not help them, they were sent to the US for treatment.

    So, in my mission at least, I do not think this was a problem.

    That said, I think there is a systemic problem, and I believe it is the same problem that contributes to inconsistent church disciplinary procedures. Local leaders such as mission presidents are given too much authority and flexibility and too little oversight, while their are not enough safeguards against abuses for the people in their stewardship. That is how the horror stories happen. I do not think the horror stories are the norm, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adjust the system to better prevent them.

  • Spenser

    Well, this is my experience: Went on mission to Nicaragua. During my time I had ingrown toenails removed 5 times. Each time I spoke to the mission mom, went to a local doctor, had the nails removed, and had to sit out work for 3 days (stupid). I was chastised for going back to work too soon (they didn’t kill the side of the nail, which is why I had it done so many times). Never questioned by the MPW. I also once became so sick that I was running a 104 degree fever, shaking uncontrollably and had the runs so bad I used the facilities over 20 times that day. My companion called the office, the AP’s picked me up and took me straight to the hospital (nicest in Nicaragua- take that as you may). My BP was something like 90/40, I was barely conscious. I spent three days there unable to get out of bed, or allowed to eat anything thanks to our water friend Giardia (But allowed to watch the spanish ESPN channel since I was bored and too weak to really read or study). (part 1)

  • Spenser

    (Part 2) I was then put on a 10 day apartment rest. Mandated by the mission and told not to go out and work. I also got more or less boils (large draining staph infections) 4 times over a few months. Once I was in a very remote part of the country (Bluefields- accessible mainly by plane or ponga). Had a 1/2 cup of puss drained out of my hand by an American trained Dr Bacon. Nearly passed out from the pain. I probably waited too long to seek medical attention. Mission was fine with it. One was on my face and I was worried I would be disfigured. Taken to a competent dermatologist in Managua by the mission. My companion dislocated his elbow doing a bicycle kick on concrete. We were ZL’s. We went to the urgent care like center without asking. Comp was casted and given a sling. New mission president from Argentina (first from Texas) didn’t chastise or complain to us. I can not state that my experience is that of others, but mine was exceptional.

  • Spenser

    Part 3-We had an ER nurse from San Diego for a while as our mission nurse. That wasn’t great. She treated my ingrown toenails by having me lie on a bed, biting on a towel. She then would jam a nail file down the side of my toenail that was infected and flick it up quickly when getting to the end. It was very painful, somewhat effective, and done because she thought it wasn’t worth getting numbed up for. Also told me I didn’t need stitches for a cut, put a butterfly on it, and three weeks later asked why I didn’t get stitches. but that was minor. As far as mental health. We had missionaries struggle and I do not know the level of care they received. That may have been different. I did not receive any of that care on my mission and can not speak to it. There are concerns in the culture that going home for medical issues is taboo. We had a missionary go into the field at 250 lbs and drop to 135. He couldn’t stay healthy and went home. Mostly from complications from weight loss.

  • Spenser

    Part 4-Some missions it sounds like were not like mine, and that needs to be fixed. I am more than fine with the Slate article being written, but the author chooses to show mainly just one side of the story. Mormon culture needs to understand you can’t pray and fast your way out of depression and mental illness. Missionaries getting sick isn’t a lack of faith, and there ain’t no shame in seeing a doctor. And it wouldn’t hurt on the other hand to realize that one person not doing it all right as a mission president, AP, or Zone Leader doesn’t give license to slam the entire church or missionary organization.

  • Maddy

    Are we being overly defensive here? No doubt there are instances where adequate medical care is delayed or not forthcoming, for a variety of reasons–including reluctance on the part of the missionary to report it. Inside the church we never hear these stories. “The best two years” is all we hear. This is unhealthy and can put added pressure on missionaries who find they aren’t well-suited for LDS missionary life. I would like to hear more about the “Sick RM’s” website.

  • E.G.

    According to other things I read about this Slate article, Slate went to an ex Mormon Reditt site and got stories from only twenty-four ex Mormons.

    I do realize our Salt Lake City leaders are very busy and have a lot on their plate. There are many issues the church has to deal with and can’t do everything , so they rely on other leaders to do the right thing. Unfortunately people are people and some leaders don’t do the right things.

    The Salt Lake City leaders could do a better job with Mission Presidents and have better oversight of Mission Presidents. Some Mission Presidents are part of the problem.

    My experience on my mission was the other missionaries…….they were the problem. It started in the Missionary Training Center. I had health issues and I was not whiney about it. It was what it was. The people I was paired with were absolute jerks. I got….” you’re not really sick”…..”suck it up”…….”no time to see a doctor” and worse.

  • E.G.

    What April Young Bennett said is spot on.

    Absolutely right.

  • maddy

    “According to other things I read about this Slate article, Slate went to an ex Mormon Reditt site and got stories from only twenty-four ex Mormons”

    I’m curious as to where you read Slate went to an ex Mormon Reddit site?

    I would recommend people simply going to the “Sick-RM’ site.

    I know of a missionary who committed suicide-15 yrs ago or so–while serving a mission in Europe. I know of another missionary who returned home early due to schizophrenia. I believe we need to discuss and examine these issues. How much pressure is put on young people to serve a mission? Are all young adults suited for a mission? Are LDS young adults judged negatively by LDS culture if they choose not to serve or return home early? If so, is this harmful? Are there statistics on early returns, percent of LDS youth going on missions? Percent of RM’s who suffer emotional or physical ailments when returning?

  • Joshua

    How about all the missions in Africa that send African missionaries to doctors, optometrists, and dentists *many for the first time in their life* all on the church’s dime.

  • Ricardo

    Wow, your wife was told by her mission president that “he” hated sister missionaries? In my 36 years of active church membership I have “never” heard such a thing! Please do not be offended but I think there is something missing in your post. My views on LDS missionary work is very different. I am a convert to the church and continue to have a really close relationship with all things “missionary” related. I joined at age 17yo, I served a proselyting mission in the Australia Perth Mission in the 80’s (at age 20yo), my in-laws are still in contact with the two missionaries that baptized them 46 years ago, 4 of my brothers-in-law and 2 sisters-in-law are returned missionaries, my oldest nephew just returned from the New Zealand Aukland Mission, have a niece and a nephew now serving in Tahiti, and my oldest daughter has been in the Irvine California Mission (spanish) for the last 9 months. Blah,blah, blah right? In truth, from where I stand your comment is “very” out of…

  • Ricardo

    Missionary work is really hard and while not everyone is cut out for full time proselyting work, all can serve in different capacities in the Church. Our oldest daughter is serving a full time proselyting mission right now (9 months in the field). She had serious health issues before her mission, while in the MTC and even now and yet she was never discourage from serving. To say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints discriminates against young people wanting to serve or serving missions while dealing with health limitations or disabilities issues is way off the mark here. My family have had a lot of years dealing with missionaries across the world and all I have is praise for how the Church and it’s local leaders have responded to our missionaries’ needs! The MTC president kept us closely informed of all developments while our daughter was sent to specialists. She was operated while still in the MTC 10 months ago? Her mission president and his wife have been…

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