Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Scandal of The Religious Mind

If I was to deprive my children of, say, food, until they died, I would have well and truly earned my way into a Supermax prison.

If I was to deny them a blood transfusion during the course of medical treatment, I'm sure I would be listened to politely, faced with the Spock Eyebrow of Disbelief, and put on immediate disregard.

Claim to be a Jehovah's Witness, however, and:

Canada's first sextuplets, born more than a week ago, are facing an additional complication to the usual premature baby's struggle for survival: Their parents' religion forbids blood transfusions, a typical part of a preemie's treatment.


The hospital spokeswoman declined to provide any further details, out of respect for the family's privacy.

What entitles them to such respect, other than inexplicable deference to a silly religious doctrine, is beyond me.

10 Comments:

Blogger Oroborous said...

Yes, it is deference to a silly religious doctrine, but it's hardly "inexplicable".

You have your own set of beliefs, ones that you want others to respect, and you also want more people to believe what you believe, as evidenced by your writings on such matters.

Besides, unless the babies are sure to die without giving them a treatment in which the parents don't approve, (and that doesn't seem to be the case here), then by respecting their wishes we support the doctrine that parents are the penultimate authorities with respect to how their kids are to be treated, which is a mighty handy zeitgeist to have around when one wishes to raise one's own children in a non-traditional manner - such as, say, irreligious in a religious culture, e.g., that of the U.S.

January 19, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I think this is one of those cases, as with the right to own guns, that we accept that there will be some negative consequences to ensuring that a basic freedom is not trammeled by the state in the service of universal safety. I agree that this particular set of beliefs defies reason and common sense.

January 19, 2007 8:27 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Oro:

Yes, it is deference to a silly religious doctrine, but it's hardly "inexplicable".

You have your own set of beliefs, ones that you want others to respect, and you also want more people to believe what you believe, as evidenced by your writings on such matters.


That's as may be. However, one of the points at hand here is that, unless I wave the religion card, any protestations I might have against transfusions would be judged insane, and put on disregard.

Which is how I get to inexplicable. How is it that health practitioners, and the law, go belly-up when a religionist proposes such a thing, but not when anyone else does?

Besides, unless the babies are sure to die without giving them a treatment in which the parents don't approve, (and that doesn't seem to be the case here), then by respecting their wishes we support the doctrine that parents are the penultimate authorities with respect to how their kids are to be treated ...

While details have been suppressed, from the tone of the article, it seems the doctor people were strongly inclined towards transfusions. After all, until a case becomes in extremis, an outcome best avoided proactively, it is darn hard to tell a priori when a transfusion is essential for survival.

I completely agree with the doctrine parents are the penultimate authorities (question: who is the ultimate authority?). However, that doctrine seems unevenly applied. Religionist parents get more authority than the rest.

Duck:

I suppose you are right. But, should you attempt to advocate such a silly course of action, what do you suppose your chances would be of prevailing?

Or does it not matter?

January 19, 2007 9:42 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

How is it that health practitioners, and the law, go belly-up when a religionist proposes such a thing, but not when anyone else does?

Because absent an acceptable irrational reason, such as religious belief, how could one justify such a course of action ?
Lacking religious faith, it is insane to refuse medical treatment for one's children.

The only exception to that, that I see, is if one has an insight into some harm done by an accepted treatment, that is currently lacking in medical science. Thalidomide, for instance. (Although use of that drug has come back, as a treatment for symptoms of leprosy and AIDS).

(question: who is the ultimate authority?)

The State, silly.

Religionist parents get more authority than the rest.

No, they just use their authority more, because they're in conflict with mainstream culture more often.

January 20, 2007 5:16 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

We don't know in this case, but we certainly know that Jehovah's Witnesses are ready to sacrifice their kids and have done so in other cases.

Public and (I suppose) legal opinion is uncertain how and when to react.

Sometimes a court will intervene and order treatment. (Query: do the parents have mixed feelings?) Sometimes it won't.

The scandal, to me, is that when the Witnesses do manage to sacrifice one of their children to their personal Moloch, and a bravish prosecutor brings them into court, they usually get off scot-free or with a very light sentence.

Contra Brit, there can be no possible objection to the death penalty in those cases, can there?

But, Skipper, it isn't just 'religion,' or not formally constituted Judeo-Christian religion.

What about parents who, out of mere skepticism, ignornance etc., put their dying but curable children in the hands of various secular curanderos and chiropractors?

The courts are hardly more likely to act then, either before nor after death.

When I was in Iowa, there was a particularly horrible case. A boy, about 10 years old, with cystic fibrosis was put in the hands of a chiropractor who also used various other screwball treatments.

He took the boy off his CF medicine, which would have killed him within weeks or months, but it didn't get that far, because he electrocuted the kid in his healing machine.

The parents were not even charged and the chiropractor got 3 years.

Although I had already made up my mind about whether Christians have any moral sense, the complacency with which this case was swallowed in Iowa confirmed it.

January 20, 2007 12:20 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

These Jehovah Witness's cases involving children in extremis are easy targets because we have come to see blood transfusions as safe, run-of-the mill treatments with consequences that can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy. It wasn't always thus, by any means. So it is easy to analogize their behaviour to physical abuse or denial of food and assert the quite sensible proposition that freedom of religion has limits in terms of what one can impose on a child.

But these cases become complicated and controversial because the law isn't there to define and enforce general enlightened parenting practices--it is there to define bottom lines of legal responsibility. Contra Oro, there are lots of rational reasons to decline medical treatment unless you define the medical establishment as the default apex of rationality. Keeping a child out of hospital in the age of superbugs can be very rational. Is a parent that refuses a doctor's wish to prescribe ritalin or anti-depressants for his/her troubled child a negligent parent? Harry can rend his garments over chiropractors all he wants, but they are an acknowledged, accredited part of the health care system in most places (with the support of a not negligible minority of doctors)and no parent could be faulted for choosing one to treat his child, anymore than one would think acupuncture is abuse. Does Harry think the medical profession is devoid of incompetents and quacks?

And what of the case of a deathly ill child whose doctor says the surgery he needs has a 60% chance of success and a 40% chance of fatal failure. Are you guys going to get out your calculators and have the child protection authorities seize the child because the parents say they will take their chances with homecare and prayer?

These cases occur against a backdrop of a rapidly expanding assertion of authority over children by outside expertise in medicine, education, family courts, child protection authorities,etc. who always base their claims on "scientific" rationality of one form or another. I would certainly agree with you that the Witnesses are over the line, but I wonder whether you guys even have a line.

And then there is the added complication that the law looks only to the sincerity of belief of the parent claiming religious freedom, not to its reasonableness or doctrinal coherence or its association to traditional, mainstream theology. There are lots of good reasons it does that, but this isn't one, although I understand why the Duckians would hold to it absolutely and why it is so key to your longterm dream of eradicating religion altogether.

January 21, 2007 4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The religious issue here is a red herring. In effect, patients have total autonomy (with one exception we'll discuss in a minute) to refuse even the safest and most effective treatments for any crackpot reason. Parents also have wide latitude to choose or oppose treatments for their kids, except that the hospital might well decide to seek the appointment of a guardian if they believe that the kid's best interests are being ignored. Just think about the vaccination nuts, who are not only endangering their own kids but the entire herd, but are allowed to do so and get a respectful hearing.

The one exception to being able to decline treatment is that the hospital will probably send a psychiatrist in to see you to see if you are competent to make the decision. The psychiatrist will not second-guess the decision, but will ask general questions to decide whether you are oriented, aware of your decision and aware of the consequences. If you're competent, you're golden.

January 21, 2007 10:00 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

These Jehovah Witness's cases involving children in extremis are easy targets because we have come to see blood transfusions as safe, run-of-the mill treatments with consequences that can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy. It wasn't always thus, by any means.

Wrong. First, the JW objection is based upon one of those fussy Biblical dietary restrictions. Second, the importance of blood typing was known before WWI. Transfusion has since been far safer than the alternative.

Avoiding transfusions at one time would make material sense. But for as long as virtually anyone still living goes, that has long since ceased to be the case. These people are risking their children at the altar of stupidity.

So iit is easy to analogize their behaviour to physical abuse or denial of food and assert the quite sensible proposition that freedom of religion has limits in terms of what one can impose on a child.

Is it? This particular hospital doesn't seem to be able to get from analogy to anywhere remotely in the vicinity of action.

... there are lots of rational reasons to decline medical treatment unless you define the medical establishment as the default apex of rationality. Keeping a child out of hospital in the age of superbugs can be very rational.

Not without considering why the child might be in the hospital in the first place. I'd wager that for most reasons, oh say, compound fracture, any rational risk analysis would put the very small risk of infection by "super bug" well down the list of risks that particular child would be facing.

And then there is the added complication that the law looks only to the sincerity of belief of the parent claiming religious freedom, not to its reasonableness or doctrinal coherence or its association to traditional, mainstream theology.

The law should look only to the relative risk. Doctrinal adherence, or association with mainstream theology is nothing more than competing fairy tales. There is no possible way to distinguish between mainstream religion and the Jehovah's Witnesses except through reason, and neither should be afforded any particular sanctuary simply due to market share.

I knew a woman sometime ago whose parents were Jehovah's Witnesses; her dad was some kind of muckety-muck in the Church.

Her tonsils needed removing. It took months before they could find a doctor who was willing to let her die rather than provide a transfusion in the event of a complication.

That woman loathed her parents.

David:

The religious issue is not a red herring. Someone claiming fervent belief is going to get a bye that is unavailable to anyone else.

The question here is why that should be the case.

Back when we had a draft, not so many years ago, conscientious objectors could similarly get a bye, provided there was proof of religious conviction.

Why?

January 21, 2007 4:06 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Because our society has agreed that it's permissible.

It's the same argument that "rationalists" make with regard to morality: Whatever a large majority of people in a society agree is moral, is.

So we've agreed that fervently religious people get special treatment, in the draft, regarding the Social "Security" programme, etc.

It just is.

January 22, 2007 2:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'vaccination nut' is it.

I am not seeking to eradicate religion, and in this context I was pointing out that dangerous medical decisions are being made without benefit of religious justification.

Yes, I would consider sending a child to an acupuncturist 'abuse.'

Depending on the skill of the feeder, I'd say the same about some people who make their kids vegetarians.

Within wide limits, we allow people to do what they want because it's a free country. If a parent wants to invest a grandparent's legacy to grandchildren in some crackpot scheme and lose it all, nobody says anything.

Medical cases get dicey.

January 22, 2007 11:08 AM  

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