- Saloma Furlong
- I am the author of the memoir "Why I Left the Amish." In February 2012, I was featured in the PBS documentary "The Amish" that aired on American Experience. I was born and raised in an Amish community in Ohio. Driven by my desire for freedom and more formal education, I broke away from my community –– not once, but twice. I graduated from Smith College in May 2007 with a major in German Studies and a minor in Philosophy. My education has included research on the Amish with Dr. Donald Kraybill and a semester abroad in Germany, where I studied at the University of Hamburg. During my thirty-year inner struggle of coming to terms with my Amish past, I have gleaned a better understanding of myself and my heritage. It is this perspective that I bring to my reflections about Amish.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Amish and Health Care
Yanina asked: "What are the Amish beliefs in modern medicine? For example, Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. Do the Amish have similar beliefs? How about mental illness or an illness like ADHD?"
These are great questions. The Amish religion does not take a position against modern medicine. They allow blood transfusions, open heart surgery, chemotherapy, and any other treatments offered in modern medicine, though they tend to steer away from being put on life support systems. Just as in mainstream America, it often comes down to a personal decision. Some Amish tend to go to greater lengths than others to prolong their lives, also like in mainstream culture. I have often been surprised in this myself -- the Amish are usually ready to accept death as part of life, even when the lives of children could have been spared in some avoidable accident. It seems to me that part of that same belief would lead to them to decide not go to great lengths to keep themselves alive, yet some of them do exactly that. It often comes down to whether or not the family has the means to pay for open heart surgery or the like. Most Amish do not have medical insurance (this may have changed since I left 30 years ago, and it may also vary from one community to the next). When I lived there, it really did have to do with whether you had the means.
Having said all this, the Amish are also very susceptible to promises of "miracle cures," and may go to great lengths to go to a certain place or see a certain person who is reputed to have a miracle cure. Cancer patients are especially prone to fall for such empty promises. My theory about why the Amish are so prone to falling for miracle cures, is because they are already conditioned by the religion to follow the Amish ways unquestioningly. If I had been "properly" conditioned, I would have learned this better, but I would also have given away my ability to be discerning about other things. Many "successful" Amish have done exactly that.
The Amish do accept help for mental illness, but they are slow to recognize it. They seem to think that there are not too many maladies that cannot be combated with lots of hard work. This could part of the reason the suicide rate among the Amish is fairly high. If someone is truly suffering from mental illness and it is not recognized as such by the people around him, it could lead to feeling like there is no other way out. There are times when, as in my father's case, there is finally recognition of the mental illness and eventually he accepted and benefited from counseling and medication. The treatment he got for the last 25 years of his life was a Godsend -- it kept him from becoming violent.
As far as the Amish response to ADHD, I don't know the answer to this question, because this diagnoses has developed since I left the community.