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.