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. http://www.lawandbioethics.com. 14 Jul. 2016.
Georgetown College v. Jones: 1963 - Crisis Develops At Georgetown Hospital - Court, Wright, Life, and Attorneys - JRank Articles
Offit, Paul A. “The Peculiar People,” Bad Faith: When Religious Faith Undermines Modern Medicine. Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2015. 159.