examining our biases.

A child is brought to a hospital because she’s complaining about severe abdominal pain.  Upon examination, the doctors find a large tumor.  The cancer specialist tells the parents that the tumor is highly operable, but that a failure to do surgery will almost certainly result in the child’s death within a year.

The parents refuse the surgery because of their personal beliefs, and take the child home for alternative treatment.

Variant A:  The parents are dyed-in-the-wool New Age granolas.  They live on a vegan diet, feed their pets vegan food, and raised their daughter on breast milk and soy milk when she was little.  They didn’t get vaccinations for their child because they are convinced that the vaccine causes autism.  Instead of surgery, they try to treat their child’s cancer with a special diet, herbal supplements, meditation, focus crystals, and “good energy”.  Ten months later, the child dies from complications related to the untreated tumor.

Variant B:  The parents are staunchly religious, and believe in the power of prayer to heal all sickness and disease.  They didn’t get their child vaccinated because they believe it is sinful to inject foreign matter into one’s body, and that only God has the power to cure diseases.  Instead of surgery, they put their complete trust in God, and try to treat their child’s cancer with daily prayer sessions.  Ten months later, the child dies from complications related to the untreated tumor.

  • Do you believe parents A should be charged with child neglect?  How about parents B?
  • If you believe that one should be charged, but not the other, why?
  • If you believe that both should be charged, should they receive a different sentence?  If so, what kind of mitigating circumstances do you see?
  • If you had a chance to be the deciding jury member in both cases, which one would you be more likely to pronounce guilty?

(This post was inspired by this current trial in a Tennessee court.  If you read the article, make sure you read the comments, too.)

The state of Tennessee has a law that allows parents to decline medical treatment for their children if their religious beliefs compel them to do so.  If the woman charged with neglect was a member of the focus crystal crowd, there wouldn’t be a jury in the whole of Tennessee that wouldn’t nail her hide to the wall, because she wouldn’t be able to claim religious exemption.  Is it right and just to treat the religious parent any different from the hippie parent, if the end result of their decision is the same, and their beliefs are equally sincere?

Freedom of religion: does it give someone the right to make life-and-death medical decisions for their child in contradiction of all medical evidence?  And if it does, why do we get all upset about religious groups marrying off young girls?  If the child can be subjected to the will of her parents when it comes to something as essential as critical health care, why shouldn’t she be subjected to the will of her parents when it comes to issues that aren’t crucial to her survival?

On a side note: I find it humorous how many religious groups claim that “atheism is a religion, too” when it comes to court matters where such an interpretation would favor the religious side (school prayer, science curricula, etc.), and then turn around and say that religious exemptions don’t apply to atheists when it comes to court matters where that notion would favor the atheist/secular side (tax exemption, parental health care decisions, nativity displays on public grounds, etc.)

Shouldn’t everyone be equal before the law, and subject to the same rules and standards, regardless of personal beliefs?  Or should Christians get favored treatment in the legal system because we are a nation of mostly Christians?  And if that’s the case, who gets to decide who’s a “real” Christian?  (I know plenty of Christians who would claim that the woman in that court case is not a real Christian.)  Is that not exactly what the Bill of Rights was designed to prevent–a tyranny of the majority?

I’m interested in your opinions.


82 thoughts on “examining our biases.

  1. Dustin says:

    I’ll go with “neither” for the first question. Because they shouldn’t have been charged with neglect, they should have been charged with murder. But, given the law in Tennessee, I’d say they can’t be charged with anything (since I would qualify a and b as equally “religious”).
    So far as the other two questions, the reason behind their stupidity would make no difference to me. Same sentence (death, or at the very least, forced sterilization), same guilty verdict (reached in 15 minutes, enough time to grab some free coffee and donuts).

  2. Both are guilty of Negligent Homicide. I’m tired of child abuse hiding behind “religious” dogma (be it supernatural or organic natural). If an adult makes a choice to forgo modern medicine, so be it. The parents were concerned enough to seek the advice of modern medicine in the first place to get the diagnosis.

    In my perfect world, if a parent wishes to avoid the evils of modern medicine and not be held liable for the results, then they need to never seek it out for their child. Once a doctor is involved, a reasonable course of treatment must be followed (second opinions can be sought, different treatments pursued, etc., but it has to be something that medicine has seen work more often than anecdotally).

    So if you want to avoid medicine, then your kid never sees a doctor until they are 18. If you see a doctor, and he tells you your kid needs treatment, and you refuse, the state will not interfere until the child dies (the state will not be sending in SWAT teams to get your kid and take them to the hospital, or going to court to strip you of your parental rights), and then you get hit with Negligent Homicide.

    I believe in parental rights being upheld, but I also believe that parents need to be held responsible for the choices they make for their kids.

  3. dpatten says:

    What you come down to here is a conflict between malum prohibitum and malum in se. You have a law that essentially legalizes something that common decency says is wrong.

    The Actions of the “Christian” parents in your hypothetical are not “malum prohibitum” based on Tennesee Law.

    While their actions are malum in se based on current societal standards, they are not in fact punishable.

    It’s not as clear-cut for the “granola munchers” Unless their religion specifically prohibits them from from accepting medical treatment, they are possibly culpable for violating the law under the Tennesee statute.

    As a former evangelical Christian (and current atheist) my understanding of the situation based on the teachings of the Pentecostal church that I grew up in is that: God created the doctor and God gave her his wisdom.

    Ignoring the doctor’s admonition is tantamount to ignoring the advice of a prophet or Disciple of God, except of course where such advice conflicts with the scriptures.

    Prayer is well and good, but one should consider that God might be answereing your request for healing not with a miracle, but with the Guy who spent 25 years in various schools studying how to fix you.

  4. red says:

    “Both are guilty of Negligent Homicide. I’m tired of child abuse hiding behind “religious” dogma (be it supernatural or organic natural). If an adult makes a choice to forgo modern medicine, so be it. The parents were concerned enough to seek the advice of modern medicine in the first place to get the diagnosis.”

    I couldn’t say it better myself, so why try. =]

  5. Jay G. says:

    What do I think?

    I think both sets of parents should be horse-whipped within an inch of their lives, then sterilized, ideally with a rusty pair of bolt-cutters.

    As for whether the .gov should be stepping in, though, that’s a helluva lot harder. While I’m all for protecting the wee ones, I’m quite reluctant to give the Feds the power to swoop in and take control of yours from you for any reason.

    Establish laws against neglect? Check, and done.

    Game, set, match. Prosecute, don’t persecute.

  6. God gave humans the abilities of reason and self-determination. there is no justification for denying proven life-saving treatment that is the result of those abilities. both sets of parents are guilty of directly causing the death of their child.

    however, your “side note” is revealing as to your own bias: you find it “humorous” that religious “groups” attempt to attach definitions to that which they do not get to define. nothing humorous about that; those groups are just wrong. freedom of religion can certainly be defined to include the “belief” that “mother earth” and the power of positive thought are healing. that is just as much religion for those “groups” as a belief in the miraculous power of God. under that definition and under the absurd laws of tennessee both sets of parents are innocent.


  7. scotaku says:

    Not a lawyer, not a doctor, so that’s out of the way. I am moderately religious, probably closest to a deist if that classification still exists. Now that my bona fides are on the table, so to speak, my thoughts:

    What defines “negligence?” Is the child cared for? Fed, clothed, sheltered? Nurtured in ways our society recognizes as acceptable? Had the child (age 15, I believe) requested medical treatment, independent of the parents’ decision? Is negligence in this case being considered “abuse?” Is this really a case of biases? Why is the counter-example provided “granola-munching?”

    If the child is an equal member of the decision to forgo medical treatment, then I don’t know if I can hold the parents accountable. Then again, I don’t know the family, the upbringing of the child. If the home is an easily recognizably loving home, then… there seems to be some mitigating circumstance.

    Wow, I’m indecisive. Were it my family, I’m in the camp of “God created the Doctor, God gave her His wisdom.” But it’s not my family, and I don’t know the people involved. Is that it, then? That because I can’t speak to the nature of the family that I cannot come down hard on this?

    It’d be easy, if they were the people in the house behind me, where the father hits the kids and the mother is indolent, to say they’re guilty. But based on the few bits of information I do have, and assuming that some form of judgment is being requested… negligent homicide. There was a chance for the child to be saved through modern medical procedure. Regardless of the family’s faith, it is irresponsible to cut short the possibilities of a child’s future, though we do not have the responsibility of deciding that child’ fate.


  8. MarkHB says:

    “Both are guilty of Negligent Homicide. I’m tired of child abuse hiding behind “religious” dogma (be it supernatural or organic natural).”

    Exactly, in one. Simple as that. If the treatment’s there, and the parents refuse it, and the kid dies – Negligent Homicide. Crystals, xTianity, Scientology, Whatever – the parents are responsible for the child.

    It was plainly stated in the opening conditions that surgery would almost certainly cure the kid. Turning it down is tantamount to holding said kid’s head underwater ’til they stop twitching. I don’t care what impelled the parents to persue such a course of action, they’re responsible for the death of their kid through neglect. There is – there can be – no possible excuse for this.

    To be a parent is to be legally responsible for every aspect of a child’s existance until they reach their legal majority and are able and entitled to make their own decisions. Even if that’s not legally so in some places, it’s morally so anywhere. This “It’s My God” get-out clause if nauseating.

    I can’t condone kicking down doors to in the name of “Thinking of the Children”, but when dogmatic idiocy has lead to the death of a child, the parents in question need to be nailed. To. The. Wall. A few cases where the parents are hammered for child abuse, negligent homicide, willful neglect or whatever will hopefully ablate the number of people willing to let their kids die on the altar of whichever unscientific idiocy they’re practising.

  9. Both sets of parents are guilty of child abuse and negligent homicide. As an adult you can do whatever silly-arsed thing you want to do with your own body. As a parent your responsibility is to make sure your child can get to be an adult to do whatever silly-arsed thing it is with his own body.

    You gotta meet the standard of care.

  10. Phil says:

    As a theologian, I must say that the folks who have already commented have pretty well nailed it.

    The family obviously does not reject ALL medicine, as evidenced by their consulting of a medical professional for the initial diagnosis. They cannot claim a disbelief in the entirety of modern medicine having made that consultation.

    Theologically, at no point is medicine ever once derided in the Bible (I am speaking from a Christian perspective here, a Muslim, Hindu, or adherent of another religion will have to cover their own beliefs). Luke, the author of a gospel as well as the book of Acts, was a physician. There was furthermore a willingness to use remedies for physical ailments if possible (Paul’s admonition to Timothy to “take a little wine for your stomach” could have just as easily been “pray it away”).

    It sounds like the lady in the linked story was part of some wacko cult, and they cannot be held up as though they represent any kind of mainstream Christianity, even the conservative branches (that would be a straw man argument). The only Christian group of any relevant size that rejects medical treatment is Christian Science, and they have serious differences from more mainstream groups in many areas.

    Generally, I would counsel my parishioners to seek competent medical treatment, and any refusal to do so would be grounds for me to contact family services on the child’s behalf (in my state, ministers are mandatory reporters). No matter whether they try to cloak it with Jesus, parental authority, or plain meanness, a refusal to obtain care for a sick child cannot be excused- nothing reasonably fits as an excuse.

  11. MarkHB says:

    Then again, if you were sufficiently wooly-headed to think there was any excuse for denying your child treatment resulting in it’s avoidable death, you probably wouldn’t be reading blogs like this in the first place. Just sayin’.

  12. perlhaqr says:

    The big point for me comes late in your post, Wrangler. Everyone should be equal before the law. And there should be less of it.

  13. natf says:

    In the cases you outlined I believe the parents are responsible for the death of their child due to their negligence to seek medical treatment after the initial diagnosis. As others noted it’s telling that both variants sought an initial diagnosis and would have likely followed the doctors recommended treatment had it been a different ailment.

    That said I don’t think government has a role to play in punishment here. I personally would have nothing further to do with either variant of parent, but then again I would likely not associate with either parent variant anyway since I expect they would associate mostly with fellow believers.

  14. MarkHB says:


    The thought experiment parallels a recent real-life case linked in the post where, having consulted a physician for an operable cancer, the parent let her child choosing “the power of faith” to cure her child. The parent is using Tennessee’s “God Defence” or whateverit’s called to get away with it.

    Which really tells me that the parent feels no remorse over her child dying because she’s trying to get away with it. That’s the most sickening part of all.

  15. SAWBONES says:

    Neither set of parents is guilty of “negligent homicide”; the cancer might well have been fatal in any case, and was the proximate cause of the child’s death. The parents’ failures were in permitting provision of the best-possible treatments.

    Rather than “negligent homicide”, the parents in these hypothetical cases are guilty of failing to employ what, in the judgement of most modern rational people, is the best available treatment for the condition in question.
    It is unfortunate that so many screwball people have children, and that they impose their screwball ideas on their defenseless children, even to the extent of neglecting such elementary modern medical prophylactic measures as vaccination, or in avoiding treatments which are clearly beneficial, all in the name of some particular moral or health philosophy, or in the name of religious faith-by-proxy, yet unreasonable, looney, irresponsible, immature and unfit people of all sorts have been having children for ages, and will doubtless continue to do so, and barring direct physical abuse of said children, these parents are nonetheless usually the best people to oversee their children’s welfare.

    I do not favor “the state” becoming involved in hardly any issues of this sort, however. Unfortunate though the outcomes often are, having the “gubmint” permitted a controlling treatment access to such cases is IMNSHO, a greater evil (more dangerous and more detrimental to personal liberties) than allowing the child in question to die earlier than would have otherwise occured.
    I recognize that others may think differently, but they have more trust in government than I do.

  16. Ahab says:

    Charge ’em both, convict them both, and then sentence them to horsewhipping.

    And that’s coming from a born again-Christian. I’m pretty sure there’s a bunch of stuff in the bible about not killing your kids.

  17. Pandu says:

    I would charge neither, unless doctors get charged when their methods fail. No one can stop death or disease, nor can a preferred outcome be guaranteed in any case.

    Incidentally, vaccines aren’t vegan. They contain substances such as fetal bovine serum and some are even made from aborted human fetuses.

    Finally, I should add that both examples resemble my family, except that we’re not neither Christian nor New Agers, and our kids have always been very healthy. A big majority of the medicine we use is made from herbs that I gather and prepare. Four out of our five children have never “been to” a doctor, which we regard as a small part of why they’re so healthy.

    Hare Krishna.


    Let’s say a parent allowed a child to go swimming in the ocean, and while frolicking in the water, the child was caught in a riptide and was dragged screaming for help out into deeper water. Now a Lifeguard was a witness to this and began to take action, but the parent stopped the lifeguard and told him that God was responsible for the safety and health of the child, and the Lifeguard was to make no effort to thwart God’s Will. The child soon dies.

    The proximate cause of the death was drowning due to misadventure. No one’s fault. The parent did not strike the child or harm it in any way, they just allowed nature to take it’s course.

    By your logic, the parent is in now way responsible for the death of the child.

  19. I should add that there is no guarantee that the lifeguard could have reached the child in time to save it.

  20. LisaK says:

    Several have already said it better than I can. I see no difference between A and B. They would both be wrong to seek medical intervention and then refuse the solution.

    One thing no one mentioned was money it would cost for the operation. I wonder how much that played into their decision. If the hospital would have just “given her a pill” and sent her on her way, pain free, would that have been an acceptable intervention to her parents?

    I like the life guard analogy.

  21. GayCynic says:

    On consideration of prior posts, I’ll chime in with the crowd that seems to me to have logic on their side.

    The minimal duty of a parent or custodian of a child is to, in a world of uncertainty, make the best odds choices to get that child to adulthood no more dysfunctional physically/mentally/emotionally than when the child arrived on-planet.

    Obviously, even with expert advice playing the odds will crap out from time to time – uniquely tragic in the instance of a child. BUT…at the same time, betting with the best odds as commonly understood at the time doesn’t crap out nearly as often as “I got a wild hair up my…” or “The Flying Spaghetti Monster Told Me So”.

    That said, until a dead or injured child turns up – I firmly believe in hands off. The dead hand of authority frequently only makes things worse, after all. However…once the aforementioned standard is met, I suggest all bets are and should be off…

    I favor a charge of Negligent Homicide in each instance (if only because Culpable Stupidity isn’t on the books). That said, I recognize and understand the reasons why the whole “Freedom Of Religion” thing is on the books, and why its’ protection is so dreadfully broad – “You can believe in whatever you want, but you can only act on what we approve of…on alternate Wednesdays…in leap years…if the moon is full” doesn’t much protect religions.

    Examples worth contemplating would be the Native American Church and the sundry Peyote and animal parts rulings…or the early and less cheery days of the Mormon faith.

    It’s a balance – but I’d argue when religious beliefs start racking up body counts composed of children and the non-voluntary, religious freedom ceases to serve as a defense.

  22. williamthecoroner says:


    The cell lines that you refer to were cultured in 1964 and 1970 respectively. It’s been YEARS since the tissue was obtained. To say that the MMR is made from “Tissue from aborted fetuses” is inaccurate and inflammatory. Yes, viruses have to be grown in cell culture. Originally some cells were of human origin. But they’ve been growing in labs for decades now. I believe that they’d have to be a transformed cell line (immortalized by having turned cancerous), because ordinary tissue poops out in cell culture after a while (I’m not sure). And yes, you can’t grow cells in culture without some form of serum added to the media.

    If you use that strict definition of vegan, though, nothing’s vegan. Even cornflakes are not vegan unless you filter out the bugs. Sheesh.

  23. Anonymoose says:

    Either set of parents should be treated the same regardless of that treatment.

    It’s the treatment I wonder about. If a parent beats their child until bones are broken, this is obviously abuse. Not feeding them when you had the means would be neglect. Then we meet the rub. If entrusting their health to hairy ideas is negligent homocide, would avoiding treatment for a disorder the stunted their mental growth be another form of neglect? How about neglecting to teach them or socialize them? Allowing them to play dangerous sports?

    I think parents should, in a perfect world, do everything possible for their children, within their ability. So I can’t understand how someone would refuse to treat their children for diseases. Yet, if doing so is a crime, why aren’t poor choices of lesser consequence punished? Or can we only punish bad parents who kill their children, instead of screwing them up? I’m usually not slow to judge but I’d have to think hard on this one.

  24. MarkHB says:


    There’s a world of difference between raising a kid who’s a goofball loner, and being a major player in putting the kid in a coffin.

    This is where a simple truism comes into effect: Consequences are the only thing that can be morally punished by law.

    Millions of people own guns: Malicious criminals are a tiny fraction of those. It only makes sense to prosecute people who have used their weapons for evil. Millions of people own cars: most of them will never be in a hit-and-run. Again, only after the fact. Millions of people have kids and religion: Only a small fraction of them let their kid die because their invisible friend told them to.

    Raising a nutball loner who believes in the Invisible Pink Unicorn isn’t a crime. Letting a kid die when it was almost certainly avoidable damn well should be. So yeah, you can only punish parents who do their kid demonstable, physical hard because it’s not a crime to be a screwup.

    And thank FSM for that, or I’d be in a lot of trouble! 😉

  25. Strings says:

    I think my position has been fairly well summed up here: both sets of parents should be hit with Negligent Homicide charges, and go away for a LOONG time.

  26. Sara says:

    Negligent homicide, regardless of the parents’ beliefs.
    I’m not sure that I’d agree with the complete hands-off approach advocated by some. Waiting until the child dies, and then arresting the parent, does not protect the child. But it’s certainly difficult to decide where to draw the line.
    Williamthecoroner, I think Pandu may be referring to the DTP vaccine. There are, however, newer vaccines derived from “non-aborted” (miscarried?)fetal tissue. I take issue with parents who elect not to vaccinate their children, and then send those children will to school where they’re in close contact with other kids. Their lack of vaccination poses an increased risk to the other children in their classes. Living in an area that’s been hit with a pertussis outbreak, I’d say that’s an unfair risk. The local school system won’t enroll kids without immunization records, though there is a “religious” exemption. I’m curious what other posters’ thoughts are on that.

  27. theflatwhite says:

    While I disagree with the decisions of both sets of parents, the eagerness of some to turn over treat/no treat decisions to the .gov is horrifying. The cure is worse than the disease when you have some beautocrat forcing or denying some experimental treatment on/from YOUR child.

  28. theflatwhite says:

    While some children will needlessly die because the govenment isn’t playing a deterrent role against negligence, there will be just as many (if not an order of magnitude more) children benefited by the lack of some unqualified social worker passing judgement on the parent’s healthcare decisions.

  29. Pandu says:

    My religion requires the minimization of violence, and states that all kinds of suffering are the result of sinful actions. Furthermore, cows are sacred. Therefore so-called preventive medicine based on violence is not an option, whether it is medical testing on animals or ingredients from slaughtered cow fetuses.

    Our children are homeschooled, but could go to school if we wanted. We have a religious and medical exemption. However, if the vaccines really work, unvaccinated children should not pose any risk to vaccinated ones. Vaccination is experimental medicine, and my children are part of the “control group.”
    If they start making vegetarian vaccines, we might consider them as an option, but I doubt there is any such program. Often it seems like meat eaters would rather pollute vegeterian bodies with the filth they consume, or just let us die.

    In the matter of going to the doctor for a diagnosis and then refusing treatment, we did that once. We were visiting my inlaws when our first baby got sick. Our pediatrician refused to advise since we we weren’t doing vaccinations, so my MIL insisted we take her to the hospital. The hospital folks were abusive and I demanded our daughter be released. They threatened is in various ways, but the next day the baby was in good health again. None the less, the bill was extremely expensive.

  30. Pandu says:

    Sorry, I meant to say religious and philosophical exemptions.

  31. Marko says:


    your unvaccinated kids put other kids and adults at risk, especially those too young for vaccinations, those who were never vaccinated in their youth because the vaccines didn’t exist back then, and those with health issues that make them unable to tolerate the vaccine.

    Also, if you have a lot of like-minded parents with unvaccinated kids in one spot, diseases don’t stay confined and spread much more quickly than they do in vaccinated communities.

    We’ve just now conquered most serious childhood diseases. No kid ends up in a wheelchair because of polio anymore, and nobody dies from the measles…and people start to forget that this is because of widespread use of modern vaccines.

    If you have a religious reservation against vaccinations, that’s your business, but I sincerely hope you’ll never have to bury a child that died from a completely preventable childhood disease like measles.

  32. Pandu says:


    Diseases emerge and decline naturally; and correlation does not prove causation. I’m sure the medical people like to think that they’re eradicating disease, but they don’t consider that their sinful behaviors simply bring the next one.

    Vaccines are not an option for my family. Do you lay a guilt trip on those with medical issues as you do to those with religious or philosophical ones? I don’t know if you have any spiritual beliefs, but the principles of Krishna consciousness are more important to me than life and death. Disease and death are inevitable for the body, but the soul lives eternally; and no one can live in the body even a moment longer than God allows, vaccinated or not.

  33. Rick in NY says:

    Frankly, I vote neither being guilty. Both sets of parents made decisions based on the same info from professionals. That they chose to not take the pros “best treatment” does not mark them as bad parents.

    Freedom means the freedom to make choices, even if they’re “bad” in someone else’s eyes. If my choice isn’t your choice, well, if you find yourself in the same situation, don’t choose the way I did, make your own mistake as you see fit. Sorry, but I do not see “the state” being all-knowing and being able to enforce the “best” course of action. I see them as being able to enfore “their best” course, which may be just as wrong as the parents decision. Sign the kid up for brain surgery and if something goes wrong, (don’t tell me Mr. Murphy can’t find the OR) then you wind up with a child dead even sooner, or worse, wind up with a body that has squash for brains and needs every single thing in their reamining lifespan done for them. What kind of life is that?

    The truely sad part to this is that a child died, and the parents are going to have to live with that fact for the rest of their lives.


  34. Marko says:


    if you see no causation at all in the inverse relationship of modern vaccine availability and occurrence of childhood diseases (you know, the very thing the vaccines are designed to prevent), then I have to believe that you’re willing to use that “correlation =/= causation” bit merely to dismiss any evidence that doesn’t fit your particular theology.

    You have the right to believe as you do, of course, but when you make that kind of claim in contradiction of decades of rock-solid, verifiable evidence in the areas of biology and epidemology, I have to assume you’re either not sufficiently educated on the subject, or willfully ignorant.

  35. williamthecoroner says:

    Vaccines were experimental medicine, in the time of Edward Jenner, two hundred years ago. Now, it’s pretty much settled.

    And as there are some folks who cannot be immunized, and the efficacy of vaccines degrade with time, this is why we need booster shots. People who do not vaccinate are not merely putting their children at risk, they are also risking the lives of others who are already compromised. Doesn’t seem so non-violent to me.

  36. Kristi says:

    I don’t think either set of parents should be charged with anything, because they did not believe they were endangering their children, nor did they WANT their children to die. They made the most informed decision they were able to make based on their knowledge and faith and belief structures, and they chose a course of treatment for their children.

    Most of us, myself included, may not agree with that choice…but it is a choice they had, and a choice they should be allowed to have.

    if my child had cancer that was terminal, or likely to be terminal…and the medical professionals recommended a course of invasive, painful treatments that might buy them some time…would I decide to do it? Thankfully I’ve never been put in that situation with one of my children. However, I have seen a number of loved ones go through cancer and cancer treatments and I know well the reality of it. If, hypothetically, my husband and I decided not to put our child through that particular set of horrors, and my child died ten months later…should I be charged with negligence?

    You never know if the treatment is going to work. You have no guarantee. As a parent, you make the best decision you can for your child. That is ALL they did. I would think that the pain of losing their child would be punishment enough.

  37. […] The Munchkin Wrangler throws out an interesting scenario. A religious freedom debate is surrounding a woman who chose prayer over medicine. It’s a sad […]

  38. Anonymous says:

    Pandu, have you ever actually *met* a cow, in person?

  39. williamthecoroner says:


    There is a difference between your scenario, where life might be extended at a cost and neglect cases where people are brought to trial. The one I remember was the one where the child had type I diabetes. Since 1920, type I diabetes has been treated with insulin injections. It arises in childhood, and these folks live to adulthood, with a slightly shorter lifespan, that is they die in their sixties instead of their eighties. The individuals in question tried to treat type one diabetes with prayer, and the teenageed kid died within a month. THAT is criminal neglect, and THAT needs time in the big house.

  40. Pandu says:

    Have I met a cow? My home is a self-funded small farm sanctuary, where several animals are protected to the end of their natural lives, especially the cow. So, yes, every day.

  41. Tam says:

    Furthermore, cows are sacred.

    Yes. Yes, they are. Especially the rump cover cut of the top sirloin.

  42. Laughingdog says:

    “Often it seems like meat eaters would rather pollute vegeterian bodies with the filth they consume, or just let us die. ”

    Or there just aren’t enough people that refuse vaccines for vegetarian reasons to make it cost effective to research and manufacture other methods.

    As for the bulk of the reactions on here to the idea of parents refusing some types of medicine when their child is sick….your bias is showing.

    I’m a big fan of modern medicine. But I had a good friend in college who was a Christian Scientist. He and I had countless discussions about his beliefs. While I don’t really agree with any of them. I at least came to understand them. Ironically, he died in his twenties. He had a stroke one year, and didn’t recover from it well (probably because of his beliefs). A couple of years later, he passed away, most likely from another stroke. There was no way to know for sure, because his parents didn’t want an autopsy.

    First, it’s very reasonable to expect that the child of parents that don’t believe in medicine will feel the same way about medicine if it were to reach adulthood itself. Second, refusing chemo, radiation, blood transfussions, as well as many other medical procedures does not mean many of these people refuse ALL medical treatment. Having a bone set, stitches on a cut, or having some tumor cut off isn’t the same as filling your body full of what they consider foreign substances.

    Forcing parents with beliefs like these to put their children through what they view as ungodly procedures would be akin to forcing devoutly Muslim parents whose child is sick to get an organ transplant from a pig. It’s basically saying “we don’t agree with your religious beliefs, so we’re going to damn your child to hell for eternity. Have a nice day.”

  43. MarkHB says:

    And in response to that, all I can say is that it’s time and past time we stopped putting respect for people’s invisible friends ahead of personal wellfare.

    Feel free to commit suicide by whatever method you like, but if you force it on a minor then you should have to pay the Piper.

    As for inherited religion, my dear mum is a bead-clutchingly devout born-again Catholic. Once I learned how to think, I rapidly tracked across the scale to agnosticism and stay firmly nailed there by lack of evidence one way or t’other. *shrugs* It doesn’t always work out that way.

  44. Robert says:

    “Your unvaccinated kids put other kids and adults at risk, especially those too young for vaccinations, those who were never vaccinated in their youth because the vaccines didn’t exist back then, and those with health issues that make them unable to tolerate the vaccine.”


    This issue concerns me personally. I only received two out of the three required shots of the pertussis vaccine. During the second shot I had a fairly severe allergic reaction. I never received the third shot, because it could have killed me.

    Since I did receive two thirds of the treatment, it’s possible that the vaccine took hold. However, there is a somewhat significant chance that it didn’t, and because of this I am possibly vulnerable to whooping cough. People not vaccinating their kids thus puts me at risk.

  45. Pandu says:

    So you think everyone should have to get a series of shots that almost killed you, due to your own selfish fear? That’s really messed up.

  46. Pandu says:

    Since vaccinations are a “proven” science, does anyone know why it takes multiple shots, boosters, etc., and why it still doesn’t always work and is sometimes quite harmful or even deadly?

    I have an aunt who went into a coma after a vaccination and had problems ever since.

  47. LabRat says:

    Since vaccinations are a “proven” science, does anyone know why it takes multiple shots, boosters, etc., and why it still doesn’t always work and is sometimes quite harmful or even deadly?

    Oh, Christ on a powered pogo stick. I had planned to watch without participating, but DUDE. This is basic immunology- this is not secret knowledge kept locked away by the American Medical Association in their secret Doctor Cave, it’s learnable with a freshman college level biology textbook. (I learned it in high school, but I went to a pretty good school.)

    The body recognizes pathogens- that’s the Bad Sick germs- by their protein coats. A kind of white blood cell called B cells produces antibodies against these specific patterns, which attach to the owner- we call it the antigen is Sekrit Medicalspeak- and essentially flag it for destruction by other kinds of white cells. Vaccines, by various methods, drop something recognizable by the B cells into the bloodstream so they will begin manufacturing antibodies specific to the kind of pathogen being vaccinated against. You need boosters because the number of antibodies produced drops over time as the pathogen in question fails to be encountered. It doesn’t always work because in the great evolutionary arms race of pathogen versus host, sometimes the pathogen wins even if the host is pre-armed in this fashion, especially if there’s a LOT of pathogen about- say, during an epidemic caused by, I don’t know, lots of unvaccinated people getting sick and throwing pathogen everywhere. Any fortification falls if there’s enough of the enemy assualting it.

    Why does it sometimes cause a bad reaction? Because the immune system is prone to error and one of those errors is violent overreaction. We call them “allergic” reactions, and a violent enough overreaction can kill, so we don’t give vaccines to people who have that kind of reaction to that antigen- and we rely on the vaccinated status of almost everyone else to protect them from the disease.

    It’s not magic happy juice, it’s a basic way to game the immune system. And you have absolutely no excuse for not having gone out and learned any of this if you’re going to go around claiming that vaccines don’t work.

  48. MarkHB says:

    *chucks popcorn into his gob*

    Sic ’em, Ratty!


  49. perlhaqr says:

    I’d just like to say thanks to Marko for explaining why people with unvaccinated kids are a threat to anyone other than other unvaccinated kids. It didn’t make any sense to me before, and I figured if the ultra-hippies were only a threat to themselves and their progeny, then why care, but I get it now. 😀

  50. Kristopher says:

    At least he homeschools, so his kids don’t greatly increase the risk to others.

    But if his kids die of some easily preventable disease, I think some form of sanction is in order here.

  51. Kristopher says:

    Oh, and BTW … that cow you keep was one of the reasons smallpox was eradicated … it was discovered that deliberately infecting people with cowpox prevented smallpox.

  52. alath says:

    Charge neither set of parents, nor punish them.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think their decision is stupid. In this case, I happen to agree with the mainstream opinion as to what’s best for the child and would follow it.

    However, there are a lot of mainstream opinions and professional groups’ position statements about what’s best for children that are pernicious nonsense at best and downright toxic at worst.

    If I am going to insist on my right to make decisions informed by my wise, informed conscience for my kids – even when they go against mainstream or expert opinion – then I have to support the right of other parents to make decisions informed by their loopy new-age consciences for their kids – even when they go against mainstream or expert opinion.

    The alternative is to empower a consensus of government bureaucrats and professional blissninnies in charge of raising our kids and punish parents who deviate from what Uncle Barak’s Panel of Experts recommend.

    Sure, in this case, we side with the pediatricians. But pediatricians also say it’s dangerous to have firearms in the home – it is the official position of the APA that children should never be taught to shoot and any firearms should be removed from the home.

    Do we go ahead and prosecute parents who disregard this “expert” opinion?

  53. Robert says:

    Heh. I was going to type a detailed response, but LabRat answered far better than I could have.

    For what it’s worth, my fraternal twin brother recieved the same exact series of shots at the same exact time, and suffered no adverse reactions. As LabRat stated, it wasn’t the vaccine that caused me to have an allergic reaction, it was my body’s own overreaction to the vaccine. I have similar, though far less serious reactions anytime I accidentally eat hazelnuts, or uncooked apple skins (though if I continued to consume these items there is a possibility of the allergy becoming more severe, with the results being roughly similar to if I received another pertussis vaccine).

    Somehow, I doubt you’d consider apple skins or hazelnuts to be deadly substances that no one should ever put into their bodies.

  54. Paul H. says:

    It’s been about fifteen years since my last college bio class, and I didn’t feel like reading online since almost all of my Internet usage is on a Blackberry Pearl with a 2 inch screen and a 20 button keyboard. Actually this is my first time here with a real keyboard and monitor.

    In any case, although I have a degree with some science (Environmental Studies, B.S.), I know quite well that the medical people have some so-called knowledge that I don’t really care to spend my time delving into. However my view is not based so much on science, which is defective, but on actual spiritual knowledge. From that perspective, the scientists are simply fools and rascals.

    Biologists are a good example. They think they know so much about life; but the material body is never alive. The soul is the living entity, which they have never seen. They do not even know themselves, pathetic. Without even this most basic knowledge, everything you call knowledge is simply based on illusion. As stated in Isopanishad, mantra 9, “Those who engage in the culture of nescient activities shall enter into the darkest region of ignorance. Worse still are those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge.” (http://vedabase.net/iso/en) What’s called science today is nothing but so-called knowledge. You have no idea of the power of Sri Krishna’s bewildering potency. The scientist wants to bring material nature under his control, but everything is completely under Krishna’s control at all times… even time itself. These are the ABCs of real knowledge.

    In the matter of medical risks, all I need to know is the following quote from Srila Prabhupada, “‘Rakhe krsna mare ke mare krsna rakhe ke.’ He whom Krsna protects, no one can kill, but if Krsna wants to kill someone, no one can give him protection.” For example, suppose a very rich man is suffering from disease. He may have a first-class physician, medicine, and hospital available for him, but still he may die. This means that Krsna desired, “This man must die.” Therefore, the so-called protective methods we have devised will be useless if Krsna does not desire us to live.”



    We don’t keep our kids home from school to protect other children from disease. We do it to prevent our children from the bad association of meat-eaters and atheists.

    As stated in the Narada Bhakti Sutras, “One should give up all kinds of degrading association.” (http://vedabase.net/nbs/43/en) Just as the Supreme Lord Himself personally quoted a scriptural verse stating, “It is better to accept the miseries of being encaged within bars and surrounded by burning flames than to associate with those bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Such association is a very great hardship.” (http://vedabase.net/cc/madhya/22/91/en)

    And speaking of giving up mundane association… I think I’m just about done here.

  55. williamthecoroner says:

    Pandu does bring up an interesting concept, as disease is a punishment for sin. This, was state of the art thinking in the Bronze age. Sickness was a visible sign of separation from and punishment by the divine–look how Job got it up the arse (literally). It is interesting that helpless infants get sick–ones who can’t even sit up or turn over. So, are they inherently sinful, is G-d just a rotten bastard, or perhaps illness is due to a combination of genetics and exposure and other factors. Hmmmmmmm.

  56. Pandu says:


    Karma and reincarnation go together, as the results of action are not confined to one lifetime.

  57. MarkHB says:


    The notion that I’m getting slaps and bennies for something I did in another life and don’t even remember is even pottier than God spanking me or giving me pressies for what I do in this one.

    How much of a disconnect from cause and effect do you want? Total, apparently. As long as it doesn’t affect me, then knock yourself out. But to paraphrase everything stated above: Bronze-age thinking has Bronze-age affects. Such as spreading diseases. That’s pretty unpleasant behaviour.

  58. Pandu says:

    Cause and effect are irresistibly connected; it’s your memory that is broken due to always changing material bodies.
    The only disease affecting the soul is forgetfulness of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who knows Him cannot help but act for the benefit of everyone, which is to say that he helps them to remember Krishna.

  59. Doug says:

    Right on LabRat.

    I am going through a series of boosters right now in preparation for an overseas job assignment. If I were not getting them, there is no telling what kind of danger I would be exposing my family and friends to upon my return.

    I will say however that I do kind of miss the “chicken pox” parties that were prevalent in my childhood. For those that don’t know, that is where parents would INTENTIONALLY expose their children to a disease, most commonly chicken pox, measles and German measles, with the intent of building antibodies while the child is young and the disease is relatively harmless. Any of these diseases can be severely dehabilitating or fatal to an adult.

    The vaccine shots that have taken the place of these events just seem a little impersonal, but they are a whole lot more sure in their effectiveness.

  60. princewally says:

    Do you know what website you are on? Magical thinking on a rational website is interesting.

  61. MarkHB says:

    Oh my.

    Sorry, Pandu. I simply can’t answer you with a straight face. That’s just silly and the apparent sincerity with which you say it just makes it sound all the sillier.

    I’m no good at rubbing blue mud into my bellybutton because I’m already using it as a salt-dip for my celery.

  62. Tam says:


    Only because you haven’t been touched by the Noodly Appendage.

  63. MarkHB says:

    If I had, I’d have a bellybutton full of arrabiata sauce instead.

  64. geekWithA.45 says:

    There are some areas of knowledge that are settled, and amongst them is the reliability and efficacy of *some* elements of science, in this case medical science, compared to placebos and miraculous intervention.

    Similarly, it would not be a question at all if the topic at hand was someone’s devoutly held religious belief that their child could fly lead them to fling the kid off a roof.

    Clearly, the parents have the right to fling themselves from the roof, but the kids?

    I think not.

    As for the impact on liberty, it seems that people need to rise to some minimum levels of civilization, ethics, and sound judgment before they can be admitted to Liberty’s feast.

    Yes: Liberty is for everyone, *except* those who would destroy it for others. There are those who are rightfully barred entrance. (And we’d better be damned careful and picky about who that is, lest we create worse problems than are being solved)

  65. LabRat says:

    Adopting a worldview of “everything bad that happens is the result of not knowing God well enough, even if it was in a previous life” is a handy way to skip around all that tiresome responsibility involved in a code of doing the least harm possible.

    When your kid dies of diphtheria, it wasn’t YOUR fault for skipping the DPT. He probably ate a steak in his past life. What a shame.

  66. Pandu says:

    “Liberty for everyone except those who would destroy it for others.”

    That would certainly include those who want to force people to accept medical procedures that violate their deeply held religious convictions, to jail parents for doing what that believe is best for their children, etc.

    No one can prove that the child in this story would not have died on the operating table if the parents did what the doctor ordered.

  67. Pandu says:

    It appears that one of my comments is held in moderation, the only one not typed on this llittle 20 button BlackBerry keyboard.

  68. No one can prove that the child in this story would not have died on the operating table if the parents did what the doctor ordered.

    Allow me to point you back to my previous analogy regarding the lifeguard.

    The question is not, “Well, the kid might have died anyway, and I believe in letting $RANDOM_SUPERNATURAL_ENTITY take care of these things, so I what is the point of putting the kid through the trauma?”, but rather, “Have I done everything reasonable to best ensure that my child will have the greatest chance to flourish as an adult?”

    Take the recent incident of the US Airways flight from yesterday. The pilot was old, and experienced, and more than familiar with the likelihood of a small aircraft staying intact during a water landing. It was a crapshoot that he could put it down (without power) just right to prevent it from cartwheeling and killing everyone. He could have just said, “Oh well, chances are we are gonna die anyway, why bother trying. I’ll let us all die, God can sort it out.” If you had been on that plane, and that was the announcement he had made as the plane descended, would you think, “Oh, wow, what a thoughtful man, so nice of him to hurry my path to heaven.”, or would be slightly miffed that he was making the choice to kill you, and you had no power to stop him?

    Children do not always even have the presence of mind to know that a choice to forgo treatment is a death sentance, treatment, while not always a good time, at least offers a chance. They just hear mom and dad say, “Oh honey, we’re sorry, we have to let you die (unless $RANDOM_SUPERNATURAL_ENTITY sees fit to heal you) in order to protect your soul because $RANDOM_SUPERNATURAL_ENTITY does not care that you are not afforded a choice, if we let the doctors try, you will go to $RANDOM_BAD_PLACE.”, and they believe you with all their heart because that’s what kids do. And then they’ll die and never get a chance to explore the possibilities for themselves.

  69. ChrisTheEngineer says:

    I submit that Pandu is a bot. You know, a program. Likely stuck in a loop. blissbot.exe

  70. Kristopher says:

    You can’t reason a person out of a position if he didn’t use reason to get there in the first place.

  71. Pandu says:

    You guys make me laugh. You’re like throwing stones at the moon. A little
    education would help: http://vedabase.net/

    Yeah, I’m a bot. Over and over, I cannot stop repeating:

    Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
    Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
    Hare Rama Hare Rama
    Rama Rama Hare Hare

    Indeed, I did not get this far just by reason. When reason reached its
    limit, mercy came, then experience. My spiritual master opened my eyes to
    the wonderful name, form, and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of
    Godhead, Sri Krishna, and it is a ecstatic spiritual madness from which one
    cannot return. And now you’ve been tagged. 8^)

  72. Marko says:

    A note to all my Christian friends:

    That feeling you get when you read Pandu’s posts above? That mix of incredulity, amusement, and incomprehension that someone can make such a nonsensical cosmology the center of their life, and not only expect, but demand to have their Argument from Emotion taken seriously (and valued just as much as cold hard evidence)?

    That’s exactly how I feel when someone tries to sell me on Original Sin, blood atonement, substitutionary punishment, heaven and hell, and all the other bits and parts of Christian theology. (Yes, I know that your religion is true, and his isn’t, but there’s not a religious person in the world who doesn’t make that claim.)

    Oh, and Pandu: “When reason reached its limit…” usually means “when the evidence before my eyes did not give me the conclusion I wanted to reach”. You believe what you believe because it feels better to you than the alternatives, plain and simple. That’s your right, of course, and I don’t begrudge you that right in the least, but do realize that reciting the Maha Mantra at me has the same effect as a pit preacher quoting John 3:16 and waving a Bible at me. They’re a bunch of words strung together to give the speaker the feeling of profound mystical insight, but they are not substitutes for reason and logic in an argument with someone who doesn’t subscribe to that particular cosmology.

  73. williamthecoroner says:

    Hey, Marko, what’s substituionary punishment? I’ve not run across that one before.

  74. Marko says:

    It’s when someone gets punished for somebody else’s sins/crimes, like Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, or jealous gods “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” (That’s Exodus 20:5, I believe.)

  75. Pandu says:

    It seems folks here just want to stay in your own little constructs of
    reality without trying to actually understand what I’m talking about. Have
    I not linked to Vedabase.net, where there are abundant, clear writings on
    the subject? You’re no better than a Christian who says the world was
    created 6000 years ago and refuses to even look at what anyone else has to
    say about it. Reason and logic are useful but cannot be the final proof,
    nor can they reveal anything that is inconceivable. Relying on these will
    never settle the mysteries of existence.

    Emotion is one component of what I have been saying, but it is philosophy
    and practical experience that holds it together. When a person has an
    desire for understanding, that desire is an emotion that drives the quest
    for learning, but the knowledge and realization that comes is distinct from
    the emotion. Reality does not depend on emotion, but emotion is a part of
    the process for revealing it.

    “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the
    understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I,
    dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the
    darkness born of ignorance.” (Bhagavad-gita 10.10-10.11)

    Since a child I’ve had a persistent interest to understand myself and the
    nature of the reality of which I am a part. Eventually this desire captured
    my attention to the exclusion of everything else, and just then I came to
    where I could go no further. Although I didn’t know if I believed in God or
    not, I said a little prayer that if there is a God then I need Him to guide
    me, to show me if He exists or is just a myth. Two nights later while
    studying Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which I had just bought a few days before,
    Krishna entered my vision and instructed me in the science of Bhagavad-gita.
    Then He left and told me I would see Him again when this life was finished.
    His closing words advised me to always chant His names, to get some
    association of His devotees, and to read Srila Prabhupada’s books.

    The knowledge is there in Srila Prabhupada’s books, with some online at
    Vedabase.net, and more for download at

    Krishna consciousness is a comprehensive, consistent, systematic, fully
    documented process by which a person can directly experience the truth upon
    which all other truths are based. Therefore it is known as raja-vidya, the
    king of sciences. As Krishna states in Bhagavad-gita 7.2, “I shall now
    declare unto you in full this knowledge, both phenomenal and numinous. This
    being known, nothing further shall remain for you to know.” He then goes on
    to describe Himself.

    I don’t have the time to keep writing here. If anyone is interested, Srila
    Prabhupada’s books are there. If you read them with an open mind, I’m sure
    you’ll learn something.

  76. Marko says:

    It seems folks here just want to stay in your own little constructs of
    reality without trying to actually understand what I’m talking about.

    That’s rich, coming from someone who just got completely schooled on basic college biology by LabRat in three paragraphs, using information that could have been gained by Googling “how do vaccinations work” in about thirty seconds.

  77. Ahab says:

    Man, I have missed so much in this thread.

    Marko, for the record as a Christian – some of us are cool with people who aren’t down with The Jesus. We all don’t feel it’s necessary to convert the world, and in fact a lot of us (myself included) believe that reason and logic are super pimp.

    Pandu is now my new favorite poster. I’m going to dedicate my new website on how to properly grill a cow to Pandu. That’s cool.

  78. William the Coroner says:

    Thanks, Marko. Hadn’t heard it phrased that way before.

    Speaking as someone who grew up heavily influenced by the interfaith movement, the thought that there is one and only one way to unscrew the inscrutable is a bit hard for me to understand. Likewise, I don’t think that what may have been proper rules for bronze-age shepherds to live their lives by are 100% applicable in the atomic age.

    I think, though, there is a pressing interest for society to care for those who cannot take care of themselves, be they too young, too incapacitated, or too old. Doctors are required to meet the “standard of care”, in their dealings with patients, which is arrived at by consensus. If you’re raising kids, you need to give them the means to get TO adulthood, when they can make their own decisions.

    And I don’t think for some people the death of a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent. For some, it is the loss of control, and they’d prefer a compliant child in the grave to a non-compliant living person. After long enough practice as a physician, you meet these people–and you wish you hadn’t.

  79. Marko says:

    Ahab, for the record as an Atheist–some of us are cool with people who are down with The Jesus. I just have a low tolerance for logical fallacies and the use of mystical mumbo-jumbo in lieu of facts and reason, and when someone steps into my (virtual) house and tries to argue with me in such a fashion, I feel that I have the right to not pull my punches, so to speak.

    But yes, reason and logic are super pimp. I kind of think that if there is a God, he’d be far more impressed by someone using the intellect he was given to come up with honest doubt and disbelief, than by unthinking obedience and subservience.

  80. Ahab says:


    And that’s why i think you’re a cool cat. The way i see it, why would my god give us these sweet pulsating brain-parts if He didn’t want us to question and examine stuff.

  81. “I kind of think that if there is a God, he’d be far more impressed by someone using the intellect he was given to come up with honest doubt and disbelief, than by unthinking obedience and subservience.”

    nailed it.

    otherwise, He’d have given us the autopilot functions of instinct, as He did all his other animals, instead of the capacity for reason, critical thought, and self-determination…but as this thread has demonstrated, some (like the parents who inspired this post, and most especially their kids) would have been better served with instinct.


  82. Maverick says:


    Ah yes, causation without correlation, a standard argument. So people with stab wounds to the heart area die at a far higher rate than people would don’t. Now there is a correlation between stab wounds and death, but you scream CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION, you’re right, stab wounds don’t cause death, silly me.

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