The Amish are famous for their refusal of modern conveniences throughout almost every aspect of their lives.
But what happens when an Amish person gets chronically ill? More specifically, how do the Amish treat cancer?
There is a short answer to this question and a long answer. In this blog, we’ll cover both, along with some explanations and insights into why these answers exist in the first place.
First, let’s answer the question at hand: How do the Amish treat cancer?
How Do the Amish Deal with Cancer?
The hallmark of the Amish way of life is their refusal to engage with modern conveniences. But when it comes to their lives and health, the Amish are able to pursue modern methods of treatment and wellness, including visiting doctors.
This extends to challenging or sometimes terminal ailments like cancer as well. An Amish man or woman may develop cancer, and they’re then able to pursue treatments that could help them manage pain or enter remission.
While this short answer may sound all well and good, the long answer includes several important details that delineate just how challenging it can be for an Amish person to seek treatment for cancer.
How the Amish Treat Cancer
It’s exceptionally rare for an Amish person to be able to earn market-price cancer treatment in the United States because of its sheer cost.
This is because the Amish pool their money in their local communities to help each other pay for medical costs, kind of like a community-based version of universal healthcare.
In addition, many Amish families may not be overtly wealthy, but they may have the assets and net worth that would prevent them from qualifying for some form of financial assistance.
After all, many Amish families with farms may own the entirety of the land they work, giving them incredible real estate value in the modern market.
But if they sell their land, they also lose their livelihood.
So once again, the an Amish person is backed into a corner when they’re faced with treating cancer.
This is why the Amish may choose any of the following options (or others) when dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
1. Seeking Treatment in Mexico and / or Canada
Because the Amish don’t have health insurance, they have no way to cover the exorbitant and, frankly, ridiculous cost of modern medical care in the United States.
This makes them seek treatment in other countries. The two easiest countries to which they can travel are Mexico and Canada.
Because most Amish are located in the northern states of the USA, Canada tends to be the easier option when it comes to travel.
But Canada, like the USA, also has high medical costs, especially for non-citizens. This is because non-citizens don’t qualify for Canadian universal healthcare.
(This is obviously not an issue for Canadian Amish, who can seek treatment feely.)
So instead, many Amish choose to commission flights or long drives down to Mexico, where the cost of medical care is significantly lower than the USA.
Is the quality of medical care the same? Perhaps and perhaps not.
But for an Amish person facing all-but-certain death otherwise, that’s a secondary consideration to getting treatment in the first place.
2. Using Alternative Medicine
Because of the desperation that a cancer diagnosis can evoke — especially if someone doesn’t have health insurance — some Amish may be quick to seek alternatives to American healthcare.
One of these alternatives is alternative medicine, which could include anything from crystal healing to herbal remedies.
While these methods have no proven success in the medical world — if they did, they would just be called “medicine” — they’re significantly more affordable and often more available to an Amish person.
It’s also important to note that the Amish do not possess nearly the same level of education as a modern person. They go to school to eighth grade and then enter the working world, and their schools are not regulated by state or federal authorities.
In other words, there’s very little opportunity for an Amish person to understand the medical world prior to being exposed to it. It also means a “snake oil” type of salesperson could take advantage of their ignorance for a quick payday.
Considering the availability and proximity of alternative medicine — along with the lack of Amish education — some Amish individuals may seek out these remedies to treat cancer, among other ailments.
3. Embracing Magic & the Power of Prayer
It’s fairly unknown in the modern world that the Amish have and sometimes practice a form of folk magic.
Often called “pow-wow” — a term that the Amish may have appropriated from the Algonquians — Amish magical practices are better described as prayer-based rituals with the intent of healing someone.
In fact, Amish magic rarely, if ever, includes any form of harm to another person.
Instead, it’s considered to be faithful Christians channeling their faith to produce a medical recovery, much the same way a Catholic saint may have been considered to produce miraculous healing.
Amish pow-wow rituals may be conducted in a home or other gathering place where the Amish can come together as a community and show their support while engaging in a large-scale prayer or proceeding.
This can all be done in addition to more standard communal and individualized prayers, like you may hear in a Protestant or Anabaptist church service.
Essentially, Amish magic — and its use in helping those who are ill — comes back to the foundation of the Amish as a people: Community.
4. Eating the Cost of US Healthcare
The final option of an Amish person, family, or community to treat cancer is to “eat” the cost of US healthcare.
Because cancer treatment can cost as much as $150,000, even the wealthiest of Amish communities can quickly feel the strain of a full treatment plan for a single individual in the United States.
This is almost never an option for any Amish community, as the other community members will also need some level of regular medical care while another member is receiving cancer treatment.
And if there are multiple community members requiring cancer treatment, US healthcare is no longer an option purely because of cost.
The Amish — a group of people who fled to the New World to avoid persecution — are almost never able to seek advanced medicine like cancer treatment in their own country.
5. Ignoring It and / or Accepting It
Because cancer treatment poses such a tremendous financial burden on American Amish communities, it’s possible for some to ignore it or accept it as their time to pass away.
This ideology has its roots in the deep religious convictions of the Amish, trusting that divine guidance will choose the best path that they’re fated to take.
It could also be because the incredible amount of money required for treatment could make an Amish person feel guilty to an extreme, shamed somehow by the fact that their life required their community’s livelihood and sacrifice.
Regardless of the reason, it’s possible that an Amish person diagnosed with cancer could simply accept it.
Exceptions to Amish Cancer Treatment Options
While our previous section ended on a grim note, it’s important to also note that there are solutions out there for some Amish individuals.
For example, charities and non-profits could foot the bill for cancer treatments for an Amish individual if they fit the qualifications of the organization.
A tremendous example of this is the Four Diamonds Fund, which pays for pediatric cancer treatments entirely.
The trick here, however, is that an Amish person has to be aware that these options exist and then get in contact with them.
Because of the Amish’s tendency to be socially and geographically isolated, this isn’t always something they know they can pursue.
The same goes for state-funded welfare for children, such as Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). However, CHIP — and other insurance-based options — may not be permissible for Amish communities because of their beliefs, even in the face of possible death.
Still, these exceptions (and others we don’t have listed) are most often based on the age of the individual with the cancer diagnosis. If an Amish person doesn’t qualify based on age, their options are even more restricted.
Want to Learn More about the Amish?
We write a regular newsletter that helps keep people in touch with what’s happening with our blog, Lancaster, and more.
If you’re interested in hearing more from us, click the banner below.