Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Parental Sovereignty?

You may have been following the story of the parents of little Ezekiel Stephan, whose parents didn't want to use conventional medicine when he was sick with what turned out to be bacterial meningitis. In this instance, the parents, although they belong to a church, weren't refusing medical care because of their faith; it was because they had some negative experience with conventional medicine or the medical establishment in Canada and chose to use so-called alternative medicine to treat their son. Ezekiel was not only not medically treated when he was ill, he was not vaccinated against this fairly common illness, either. His parents improper action--treating a serious illness with dietary supplements, and inaction, led to his death.

His parents were convicted of "failure to provide the necessaries of life," and both received extremely light sentences, Collet's being four months of house arrest with privileges to keep medical appointments and go to church. David Collet, who sells alternative medicine products, insists that their conviction is an infringement of their parental rights to choose what medicine they deem best for their child and has used it as a rallying cry to other parents, claiming that parents have a right to not vaccinate their child without being held liable for the consequence. While the history of the development of vaccinations does include tragedies, the evidence for the lives saved by immunizations far outweighs those numbers.

At the very least, David Collet and any other parent should be willing to suffer the consequences of decisions made on his child's behalf, but he wants it both ways.  The Collets failed to provide preventative medicine and to seek proper treatment for Ezekiel when he got sick. While this is not an instance of faith healing, it is an instance where the parents claim to sovereignty has been properly overruled. We have no more right to deny our child proper medical care because of our faith than we have to choose "alternative medicine" that has no scientific evidence to support its claims.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Do Parents Have a Right to Deny Themselves Medical Care?

So far I’ve argued that parents don’t have a right to deny their child competent medical care on the basis of their religious faith. But what about the parents? Do they have a right to die rather than seeking medical care? In Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, author Paul A. Offit, M.D., addresses the issue as he recounts an instance in 1963, when a Jehovah’s Witness, Mr. Jones, brought his wife to Georgetown College Hospital, now Georgetown University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. She was suffering from a ruptured ulcer and had lost so much blood that she would soon die if she didn’t receive blood transfusions. But the woman and her husband both refused permission for the transfusions, because these would have violated their religious beliefs.

The hospital’s attorneys sought a court order for Mrs. Jones to receive the blood transfusions. Judge J. Skelley Wright ordered the transfusions, and gave his reasons for having denied Mrs. Jones her religious right to martyr herself:

Jesse Jones was […] the mother of a seven-month-old child. […]The state will not allow a parent to abandon a child, and so it should not allow this most ultimate of abandonments.

In researching this case, I found that Judge Wright went on to note that Mrs. Jones’ obligation extended beyond the one she owed her child:
The patient had a responsibility to the community to care for her infant. Thus the people had an interest in preserving the life of this mother….

No one lives in a vacuum. The loss of a parent can have devastating and far-reaching effects on the life of a child--even on any children he brings into the world--by shaping the kind of person he becomes. Don’t get swept up in some happy dream that God will work everything out for your child if you decide not to fight to stay alive and take care of him. He becomes instantly more vulnerable than he was before. And that vulnerability increases according to any instability in the surviving parent and other relatives left to care for that child. Furthermore, any parent choosing to die places an immediate burden on surviving relatives or friends to help care for the child, and on the resources of the larger community, including the Social Security Administration, which will pay survivor benefits to help provide for that child. And that's if everything goes well for the child.
If you still think God requires you to die rather than seek competent medical care, consider your obligation not to abandon your child in this light:

But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel (an unbeliever). (I Timothy 5:8, King James Version, public domain)

If you have to face the judgment of an all-powerful God someday, tell Him that if He had wanted you to die, nothing you could have availed yourself of would have kept you alive, but that you were honoring your obligation as a parent by doing everything in your power to stay alive and provide for your child.

“Application of The President and Directors of Georgetown College, Inc. (331 F.2d 1000) 1964” United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit. 14 Jul. 2016.

Offit, Paul A. “The Peculiar People,” Bad Faith: When Religious Faith Undermines Modern Medicine. Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2015. 159.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"You Shall Not Test the Lord Your God"

“Had the Hickmans conceded at trial that David was sick -- but not gravely ill -- and that they relied on faith-healing rituals to cure him, they might have fared differently at sentencing. But instead of invoking a religious defense, the Hickmans said they saw no reason to call 9-1-1 or seek medical assistance because there was nothing wrong with their son, even as he grew weaker and died.” –Randy L. Rassmussen: For TheOregonian/OregonLive

Some years back, a pastor of my congregation told me about a time when his son was very ill, so ill that one night his parents weren't sure the boy would survive the night. They decided that if he died they would tell the authorities that they had not realized he was sick enough to die. Fortunately, the boy did recover, but I wondered why they hadn’t been willing to say that they had trusted in God to heal their son. A few years later I read a letter of instruction that had been sent to the church's ministry:

SUGGESTIONS FOR AVOIDING PROSECUTION—The following suggestions, although by no means a guarantee, will definitely aid in avoiding prosecutions and notoriety in the event a death should ensue from other than natural means.

This is the first and foremost rule in every criminal case. The importance of this one rule cannot be over emphasized.
Avoid telling anyone how long the person was sick. Avoid telling anyone that you knew the person was seriously ill. Avoid telling anyone when the illness first became serious. Don’t mention divine healing.

The ministry is cautioned not to mention the church’s belief in faith healing, and to be prepared to dance around his knowledge of how serious the late person’s illness was:

Deny all knowledge that the ailment was serious. Or if this cannot be done, then: (a) Place the time when the seriousness first became apparent as close to the time of death as possible. (b) Take the shortest period of time possible of the length of the illness. (c) If the question of a doctor should arise, it might be met with, “If I had any idea that she was that sick and that a doctor could have healed her (emphasis mine), I certainly would have called immediately.

(Note: Because this church believes that only God can heal the sick, the phrase, “and that a doctor could have healed her” is not technically a lie.)

The instruction continues:

If a doctor says treatment offers a very good chance of success, the minister can counsel the member to keep asking questions about potential adverse effects of drugs or other treatment.  If the doctor should say that the odds of success are very good, say 70% in favor of success, and without adverse effects, the minister can counsel the member as follows:

[. . .] the patient or parent can meditatively contemplate the answer. He could then state, “I just don’t feel I should take the chance.”*

This church was unwilling to admit that it taught that Christians must be willing to die to prove their faith that God will heal them. And, according to its reading of Hebrews 11: the promise of healing has a loophole. The “assured healing” can occur after Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of the dead in Christ, and member of this denomination must still consider the promise kept.

I don't think that's that a good enough promise. I don't think any parent should be willing to put their child's life on the line for a promise that has a loophole like that. What kind of promise is that? God didn’t require that of Abraham. He tested him, but then intervened and saved Isaac’s life. The only instances I can find in the Bible of an individual child who died--other than when David and Bathsheba's child died because of their sins--was when a servant of God or Jesus himself intervened to raise the child from the dead. Instances like that are notably absent today. So should you "wait on God" to heal your child by denying him or her competent medical care, even if he should die?

Consider this account in the Gospel of Luke 4:9-12

And [Satan] brought [Jesus] to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence:
For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee:
And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.**
And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Other versions render that last sentence as "[...] you shall not put God to the test." Don’t test God with your child’s well-being. Jesus didn’t fall for that ruse when Satan tried to tempt him by twisting the scripture. Don't you fall for it either.

*The Broadway to Armageddon, Chapter 8, William B. Hinson, Religion in the News, Suite 330—Stahlman Bldg., Nashville, Tennessee 37202
**Psalm 91:11-12