Friday, June 20, 2008

Faith Healing Kills Another Child...

A 16 year-old Oregon boy named Neil Beagley is dead from complications of a treatable urinary tract blockage because he refused to seek medical treatment for the disease. Beagley, a member of Oregon's Followers of Christ church, instead opted to rely on faith-healing to fix the problem. It did not, leaving him to an excruciating death due to organ failures. A simple catheter would have saved his life.

Beagley's parents don't face charges in this particular case because Oregon laws allow children 14 and older to refuse medical treatment for themselves. Now, I believe in the right of adults to refuse medical treatment or even elect to be euthanized if their afflictions are untreatable, but let's think this through a little bit. A 14 year-old kid can't drink, smoke, drive, vote, drop out of school, or legally have sex - If they can't be trusted in these matters, why should they be trusted in matters of their own life and death? The Supreme Court has found that minors do not have the full set of rights as an adult - For example, in the 2007 Morse vs. Frederick case, the Court found that minors do not necessarily enjoy full freedom of speech rights in certain situations. Thus, one may rationally conclude that if minors do not necessarily have a full compliment of rights, it is logical to withhold above all the right to refuse medical treatment. While there is apparently no legitimate way to prosecute Beagley's parents because of Oregon laws, this case should be sufficient cause for the Oregonian legislature to reconsider whether or not children can be trusted to act in their own rational self interest with regards to matters of their own mortality.

Oregon has done quite a bit over the past few years to destroy legal shields by which parents who kill their kids by refusing them treatment for religious or other reason can avoid prosecution. Interestingly, the case Beagley's own cousin, 15-month old Ava Worthington, who died in March from from untreated pneumonia was the first case to be prosecuted under this new set of laws. Worthington's parents intend to use a religious freedom defense in the case, but Oregon laws will make that a tough sell.

For those of you keeping score, the government generally contends that it has a pertinent interest in stopping parents from condemning their children to agonizingly painful deaths due to willful negligence. Religious convictions are not a trump card to parental responsibilities (and homicide laws), no matter how you try and dress them up. To my way of thinking, refusing a child medical treatment in favor of prayer is child abuse on the scale of intentionally starving a child to death.


Garret G said...

Yeah, I agree brother. I don't know of a biblical precedent for such a practice vs. including using medicine in addition to prayer. The implication from the Christian worldview- god wants the kid dead. Why? The fundy mind soothes itself with the (in retrospect) bizarre mantra "god is good, your son is home with the lord now, all things work for good". I don't however, think that even my most religiously fervent fundy friends would fail to seek treatment from a doctor- that is just scary.

I am reading Gods' Problem now- over halfway through it. Bart is an engageing writer. Some have critised the book for being too autobiographical and personal- but I think considering the subject- suffering- that is wholly appropriate. I love the shots he takes at the modern Christian theodicists- as obtuse, emotionless philosophers who take the subject of suffering and treat it as an intellectual problem. So very true- I have read many a paper by such theologians, and was one of the guys for whom suffering was 'not an issue that bothered me'. But when you lay out the numbers, when you ponder the suffering of a 4 year old child racked with cancer and his familys emotional toil, it should start to make one ponder the reality, not some pat, thoughtless philosophy.

Jay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay said...

It seems like there's been an uptick in this sort of thing recently. Maybe it's just that the events are getting more play in the media.

God's Problem was a very good read, I thought, and one that is likely to be uncomfortable for a lot of folks.

If you're interested, Garret, Ehrman did a lecture at Stanford a year or so ago on Misquoting Jesus that is available free on iTunes and (I think) YouTube. It's well worth the 90 minutes to watch.

Skippy the Skeptic said...

At the moment I'm preparing to notify Adult Protective Services about a potential home abuse case related to my work, which in and of itself is a sad and shitty thing to have to do, but I noticed something that bothered me a lot while looking through the Indiana laws regarding elder abuse. In section 12-10-3-2 of Indiana law (12-10-3 is all about APS), under the definition of an 'endangered adult', we are told that:

"(c) An individual is not an endangered adult solely:
(1) for the reason that the individual is being provided spiritual treatment in accordance with a recognized religious method of healing instead of specified medical treatment if the individual would not be considered to be an endangered adult if the individual were receiving the medical treatment."

Because mental retardation and/or mental/physical infirmity to the point of being able to care for oneself are necessary but not sufficient causes under Indiana law for someone to be considered endangered, this means that a severely retarded person being denied, say, cancer care on religious grounds is not considered to be the victim of abuse, even though that same person being denied care for nonreligious reasons (which falls under "neglect") would be considered endangered.