Hygiene Lectures From Typhoid Mary

A bill now before the Idaho legislature raises a thorny question. The choice facing our legislators is this. If they vote yes, and they remove the religious exemption shield, then they will be seen as encroaching on the religious freedom of parents to care for their children according to their conscience. But if they vote no, they will be seen as saying that parents must take reasonable care of their children — unless the parents are religious nuts, in which case all bets are off.

All of this is just one more glaring instance that shows us how neutrality is impossible in any society. Whenever we choose to do anything, the question “by what standard” is going to be (legitimately) raised. Because I am a Christian, I want the standard that is applied to be Christian. I do not want voodoo standards to applied, for example. There is no neutrality anywhere, and when we pretend to ourselves that there might be, we only get ourselves increasingly confused.

That said, I would urge legislators to keep the religious exemption shield in place (for the present) for the following reasons.

For the state of Idaho to remove that exemption now would be for the state to attempt the removal of a speck from the eye of religious parents while neglecting the beam in their own eye. I do grant that there are a number of foolish parents out there, who by their folly are risking the lives and the health of their children. That is a bad thing, and I am against it.

But these parents, however foolish, are not killing their children on purpose — unlike our government. Our federal government has said that the dismemberment of little ones is a constitutional right. The state of Idaho has not resisted this decision adequately. Our tax monies are given to Planned Parenthood to promote this atrocity.

So, now, in this context you want representatives of this bloody government to show up and tell some foolish parents, who might be the death of their child accidentally, that they, who take the lives of children deliberately and on purpose, think that these parents are not fit to be parents? Well, I think we should talk first about who is fit to be a ruler.

In short, until the magistrate repents of his ghoulishness with regard to the lives of little ones, he has no business getting on a high horse about how lack of treatment for a particular illness is risky. Abortion isn’t “risky” for the child — death is virtually certain. So before we have a department of the government overseeing child safety, it would be nice to have a government that actually understood what child safety actually is. Child safety includes not killing them. Right?

So the first thing I would say is that the magistrate needs to get its own house in order before they attempt to help anybody else out. Stop killing babies before lecturing us on why it is bad to increase risk for babies. Why should we put up with hygiene lectures from Typhoid Mary?

Second, the blood guilt that rests on us from abortion does not just disqualify us ethically — although it does do that. There is good reason to believe that it also has skewed our understanding of medicine itself. If hospitals have become places where people can be killed on purpose, and they have, then I want to reserve the right to be suspicious about their ideas about what might be good for us. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe there is a lot of high tech wisdom in the modern medical establishment, but it is jumbled up together with a lot of evil — and that can skew your understanding, even when you are trying to do good. That being the case, now is not a good time to be coercive in a way that interferes with the internal governance of a family’s decisions about their medical practices. The one exception I would make here — and I hope for obvious reasons — would have to do with contagious diseases. In the nature of the case, the nature of the disease means that it is not strictly an internal family matter.

Third, we live in a time of metastasizing government, and I am loathe to open a door that this do-gooding blob is going to try to come through. You say that all you want to do is have the right to step in when a kid is dying of whooping cough. Sounds noble, but I have every reason to believe that you don’t know how to stop there, and this is going to end with some social worker at the dinner table telling somebody to eat his spinach.

Now fourth, despite the “child safety” hypocrisy of our civil government, and despite the threat of over-reach, there is a legitimate issue here. Once we have publicly repented of being as a society a thousand times worse than the most neglectful parent, we may then take up the question of how far we should respect the religious beliefs of parents in their medical treatment of their children.

As indicated earlier, I would draw the line at contagious diseases. The Bible gives societies the right to protect themselves from contagion, even if it involves restricting the mobility or freedom of the person who has the disease (Lev. 13:3). In other words, if someone has a contagious disease, they may be interfered with by the broader society. Just as a person’s right to swing his fist ends at the other fellow’s nose, so also a family’s right to their own unique medical beliefs ends with them coughing in a crowded theater — regardless of their own personal beliefs about how contagious they are. A society has a right to define and enforce their own standards in this, provided the standards are consistent with Scripture, natural law, and common sense.

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49 thoughts on “Hygiene Lectures From Typhoid Mary

  1. What would constitute a Biblical, common-sense response here? Even if we agree that the State is not the best solution, there remains a group of foolish parents risking the lives and health of their children. Is it incumbent upon other Christians to show those parents their folly? Is it a matter of church discipline when the denomination encourages such folly?

  2. Regarding point 4: I do think vaccinating is the way to go. My kids are getting all their shots and I encourage every parent to do the same. But … if someone objected to vaccinations because they distrusted the government, I understand their point. There are people in my own neighborhood who were subjected to secret chemical testing by the U.S. Army in the 1950s and 60s. But Obama wouldn’t do anything like that, right?

  3. Yes, something, you are right. I tried to bring up the link at first but it didn’t work, and I just went with my incorrect assumption. I think my comment can at least be salvaged since what they’re considering might also be applied to non-vaccinating parents.

  4. Brent, I think if a church member is letting poor theology interfere with the health of their covenant children, that would certainly be cause for church discipline.  However, these sorts of parents usually tend to cluster together, so discipline in that context is pretty unlikely.

  5. I see a problem with Pastor Wilson’s logic.  A government that has connived at the slaughter of the unborn has no moral authority to demand that parents provide medical care for their children.  Would he go further and say that a government which has so clearly demonstrated its indifference to the well being of children has no right to demand as a matter of law that parents feed and clothe their children?  Or supervise their safety or refrain from breaking their bones?  If a government has lost its moral authority to this point, has it the right to make or to enforce any laws whatever?  But this same government which has no right to prevent me from endangering my own child should prevent me from endangering yours?  In other words, it may be acceptable to me to use my child’s health as an arena in which to register my disgust with Big Government and Big Medicine, but I can’t use yours.  Would Pastor Wilson agree that even a failed state still has some kind of residual duty to protect its weakest members, and that a parent’s authority over a child is not so absolute that it includes the right to impose death.   Conversely, if the government’s track record on abortion had not been so appalling, would he then conclude that the state can order potentially life saving medical treatment over the objection of a parent?  It may be irksome to have the government advise us to feed salad to our children.  It may be irksome to have the government (especially a government I can legitimately regard as wicked) second guess the decisions I make about my children.  But to suggest that letting children die from medical neglect is morally preferable to relinquishing my right not to be lectured about green vegetables seems irresponsible.  What am I missing here?

  6. Sorry, one more point.  If Pastor Wilson was a juror deciding my guilt over the murder of my child, would he find my saying “Well, the government doesn’t care about safeguarding children so why should I?” an acceptable defense?  Would “They kill kids, so they can’t tell me not to” strike him as morally persuasive?

  7. Jigawatt, he may be addressing vaccinations. If so he obviously didn’t want to just say it outright and cause his comments to explode. And I hope he would admit the state can’t be trusted on vaccines either.

  8. Typhoid Mary Mallon wound up being locked up for the rest of her life.  Her body kept exposing others to typhus. Since she could never get the disease herself, she could never get past a contagious stage.

  9. Saying that neutrality is impossible in any society is like saying that complete sanctification is impossible in any individual. Strictly speaking both statements are true. But sanctification and institutional neutrality are both ideals, and the fact that they’ll never be perfectly achieved is no excuse to ignore the ideal.
    There’s an old legal aphorism, hard cases make bad law. The fact that you’ve found an edge case here doesn’t mean the whole idea has to be chucked.

  10. Jill, it is predominantly about what is the best provision of health, not about ALL laws. Doug’s point has to do with the fact that a corrupt official (advocates abortion is a moral good) is unsafe with MORE authority, especially in the specific area he fails.   When an official can see the moral abhorrence of killing children in the name of health he is better able to discern appropriate limits to parental authority when it comes to health negligence.

  11. Chesterton said that “when you break the big laws, you don’t get anarchy, you get all the little laws”….or something very close.  I think there are sufficient laws in place to protect people from the negligence of parents who may choose not to guard against contagious infectious diseases if we view it the same as any other way of causing physical harm to people (and I don’t believe that choosing not to vaccinate in all cases is negligence, it can be a matter of conscience, rightly or wrongly…just sayin’).  It is already illegal to poison someone’s coffee, even with a legal, over the counter substance, whether it causes death or “just” sickness.  The same principle should go for people who choose not to vaccinate.  They should be free to make that choice based on conscience or personal preference but then it is on their heads to ensure that, if they do contract a communicable disease, they not pass it on to anyone else, including other family members within the same household.  If they do, they ought to be held responsible for it just the same as if they hit someone while texting and driving or if they changed their engine oil in someone’s drinking water well.  Negligence causing harm/death, undo care and attention, whatever you want to call it…it boils down to doing no harm to another.  Its the same with anti-texting/phoning and driving laws which have been enacted in many provinces in Canada (my home and native land).  There were already laws on the books which should have covered this – driving with undo care and attention.  But if you single out handheld electronic device use while driving, you will eventually have to enact a law banning eye make-up application while driving, eating a burger and fries while driving, and for some people who I pass every day on the way to work, apparently listening to the radio or chewing gum or breathing and driving.  Why not just have a “do no harm” driving law – it is illegal to drive with undo care and attention – and then enforce it?  If Bambie sideswiped three cars, a minivan and the front doors of the elementary school because she was texting behind the wheel, that already sounds like undo care and attention, I don’t need to make up a new law which says that she may not use her iphone while in her BMW.

  12. I waited to post so as not to derail. For anyone interested in a macro point of view, I suggest listening to an older sermon by Haddon Robinson entitled “The Danger of a Strong Faith and Weak Theology”. Appropriate on several levels IMO. Sorry, could not find a link. For those who listen, I predict enjoyment as well as edification.

  13. I’m having trouble seeing the consistency here.
    Assuming they pass the law, Idaho would be saying that it should be legal to kill your children on purpose before they are born, if you think it’s the right thing to do, but not legal to kill them afterwards, even if you think it’s the right thing to do. I can see this is inconsistent.
    However, you seem to be arguing that their position should be that it should not be legal for parents to kill their children on purpose before they are born, but it should be legal for them to kill them afterwards.
    Surely reversing both positions is also inconsistent? Either the state has a role in protecting children from the harm done to them by their parents (who believe, in all the above circumstances, that they are doing the right thing), or it does not.
    Gerv (hoping I might get paragraphs this week…)

  14. Thanks, Doug, for your thoughts on this, definitely a lot to chew on. I’ve chimed in on this as well, evaluating the nature of culpability to advancement of medicine, among other things. I’m linking here for those interested in further reflection that complements your post (http://www.totascriptura.com/2014/01/24/idaho-medicine-mandates-parental-neglect-and-the-imperialistic-nanny-state/). 
    I also don’t think we should have “religious exemptions,” because it suggests that we are somehow immune from the rule of law. Don’t confuse me, I agree that it should stay in, but the very fact we have this category calls into question the prudence of the whole law itself. The law should apply consistently, or else it’s a bad law to begin with. 
    Gerv, none of these folks are “killing their kids on purpose.” Abortion is the intentional removing of life. A Native American, for example, who choose to live according to their medicinal convictions aren’t intentionally killing their kids for refusing to opt in with the new latest drug on the market. Saying no thank you to medicine may be foolish, but should these parents be prosecuted?

  15. Jill, I am interested in one of the points you made regarding a government’s responsibility to protect  children whilst not having the authority to override a parent’s decision about his own children.    Without going to extremes, presumably, parents who don’t vaccinate or use specific medical practices have weighed the “odds”  of benefit to harm  and are willing to take certain chances  for their children. While that seems reasonable, it does not seem reasonable that they should be able to make those decisions for mine.   Do you disagree?  When there is a question regarding the outcome, so that death is not as close to certain as it is with abortion, do you not think parents should have autonomy over that decision?

  16. Hi Carole, your questions are always good ones!  I need some clarification of the kind of medical crises I am envisioning.  I am assuming that the government should not normally intervene on questions of common prudence about which reasonable people can differ.  An obese child’s appalling diet may be setting it up for diabetes, but I would expect the risk to be extremely serious in the present moment to justify government intervention.  But a child with diagnosed juvenile diabetes whose parents insist on treating him with prayer rather than insulin is at risk of imminent death and requires protection.  I am not meaning this as a nasty crack at faith healing; I am using this example only because most of the cases of this sort that I am familiar with have involved a refusal on religious grounds to seek medical treatment.  I believe that a child who has a highly curable form of leukemia and who will die without chemotherapy needs court-ordered treatment if the parents are unpersuadable.  There are many parental decisions about health care that I find unwise but do not justify the overriding of parental authority.  I would for the most part want government intervention only to save the child’s life, to prevent the child from enduring great and unnecessary suffering (as he might experience with untreated sickle-cell or uncontrolled epilepsy, and to prevent permanent (and preventable) damage to his functioning (setting complex fractures, and so on).  Vaccination is tricky because in a sense those parents are counting on herd immunity in a way that quite cynically passes any risk along to other people’s children.  (My feeling about this would be different if these children are in a closed community.)  I understand your position:  I can choose to take risks for my own child but I have no right to take risks regarding yours.  It is a reasonable position, and I think my objection to it must be that we have no right to take life threatening risks for our own children.  By demanding that I not endanger your child, society is acknowledging your child’s right to be protected from harm.   I can kick my dog but I may not kick yours.  If we see that my medical decisions could threaten the life of your child, it is enough reason for the state to intervene to stop these decisions from threatening the life of my own.  But, again, this is not a state power to be used frivolously. 

  17. Rick, I have some sympathy for the position of well meaning, loving parents whose culture or convictions lead them to say no to life-saving medical care. But I think they should be prosecuted if, having been told of their child’s extreme danger and the available remedies, they still choose to let their child die. 

  18. I think that I mostly agree with you, Jill.  The only thing that I think is tricky is that in many cases of disease there are risks with medical intervention as well as without.   So with surgery for example,  no surgery is risk free.  There would be risks by not having surgery and risks with having it.  The problem, generally is weighing the risks. I think the Pastor’s points about trust are relevant.  When someone no longer believes in the integrity of doctors, it is hard for them to believe when they are told treatment is absolutely necessary. That is what makes the call so difficult. The benefits and risks really aren’t as plain as they are often presented. I agree that some cases are much more obvious than others though, especially those involving imminent death.   On the second point of government intervention, we can’t forget that it is not just a matter of protecting my child from harm that our government should prevent another parent from knowingly exposing my child to contagious disease, it is equally important to protect my parental right of weighing the risks  for my own child.  So there are both rights at stake here not just the one, right? 

  19. Gerv,
    Aren’t you are skipping the  point about certainty? When a parent chooses to have an abortion she is as close to certain as anyone can be that her baby is going to be killed.  But when a parent chooses not to follow a medical treatment plan given by a doctor she may do so believing that the treatment plan would be worse for her child than the alternative she hasdecided upon.  If the parents were certain that death would follow their choice then clearly it is negligence, but I don’t think that is the case in question, is it?

  20. On the question of prosecuting parents:  I ignored one very likely scenario, and that is the case of parents who simply will not believe that their child is in mortal danger, or who believe that faith in God will heal their child.  I think this is infinitely more likely than parents who calmly accept the death of their child as the price of following their convictions.  I have desperate sympathy for the plight of these parents, and I think forced medical intervention is saving not only their child but themselves.

  21. This is an important topic and I appreciate the focus you have brought to it, Pastor Wilson. I do want to offer one additional data point that I think is missing from this discussion. As is so often the case when we are analyzing the length of the horns on the other guy’s head, there is a critical argument missing.  There is an ethical argument that comes into play in the decision of some parents not to give certain vaccinations to their children, and that argument is that some of these vaccines are created using aborted fetal tissue:
    I don’t think that church discipline would be appropriate when parents are not vaccinating their children because of a desire to be obedient to the LORD’s revealed will (Lev. 20:1-5).

  22. Jill,
    I still think you are assuming that medical intervention always saves, which it does not.  Blind faith in western medicine to me is akin to blind faith in the expertise of government teachers.  I don’t think we hear about the cases where people refuse ‘life saving” surgery or treatment and live.  It is easy to say, they should have had the treatment if the child dies, but often they have treatment and the child dies anyway, or they don’t have treatment in the child lives…. I doubt there are any accurate studies to this regard.  I personally do rely on western medicine but I don’t like the idea of being coerced to do so.

  23. Truly I find the words “forced medical intervention” in order to save us from ourselves to be quite scary.   Didn’t the Chinese have a forced medical intervention policy to save the country from itself?  When an by whom will these decisions be made?  By the people who believe it is fine to perform abortions?  No thanks.

  24. I agree with Carole that forced medical intervention should concern all of us.  Any form of coercion for our “supposed good” should raise a red flag.  Carole, I also agree with your statement, “Blind faith in western medicine to me is akin to blind faith in the expertise of government teachers.”  You hit the nail on the head.  Recently, we all got a glimpse inside the mind of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who remarked that conservative pro-lifers are not welcome in New York.  Nice, eh?  That tells us everything we need to know about how Mr. Cuomo thinks, and how the Left is attempting to transform (i.e. coerce) their vision for America on the rest of us.  Mere assent to their vision won’t do; they need to “compel” us, since it’s for our own good (whether we know it or not).  In all of this, we need to say “no thanks” and then work hard to vote the Lefties out.

  25. Since first posting, I read about some of the child deaths in Idaho that have led to this legislative initiative.  In some cases, these children died of ailments which could very likely have been cured if their parents had not decided to rely only on faith.  These were not cases in which a child is put through excruciating treatments to extend life by another couple of months; nor were they in any sense experimental treatments.  This makes it much easier to frame the fundamental issue:   Should parents have a legal right to refuse medical treatment for their children when the likely outcome of this refusal is death?  I am passionately prolife, but it is very hard for me to accept the notion that the state should forbid the pregnant woman from killing her child but should accept the right of another parent to let his or her child die as a way of making a religious statement or a political point.  I find forced medical intervention quite frightening as well, and I do not accept it for any adult who is considered legally sane and competent.  I do not accept it to cure children’s acne over the objections of their parents, to force ADHD treatment on children whose parents dislike the idea, or to insist on plastic surgery for children whose parents think they look just fine as they are.   But the fact that Cuomo is an arrogant idiot, that we are becoming a nation of busybodies, that abortion is a moral horror, and that doctors are often wrong is still no reason to allow a child to die of a burst appendix.  What appalls me is any willingness to use our children’s health and safety to express our opposition to government.

  26. Jill, I definitely agree with you that we shouldn’t use our children’s health and safety to express our opposition to government.  Certainly, all parents are obligated to do what’s best for their children, but sometimes they might be in disagreement with the government.  Conversely, though, the government shouldn’t use our children’s health and safety as a means to impose its ever-increasing desire to intrude into our lives and expand its own power.  Thus, there is no easy solution to this problem.  There certainly will be bad parents who do the wrong thing – that is true.  But it’s also true that there’s an attempt by our government to become increasingly more expansive and more influential in our daily lives.  Someday soon, they may say that you can’t home-school your kids – in the interest of “children’s health and safety”.  Then what are we to do?   

  27. This is exactly the kind of thing I worry about Dan.  Once the door is open, what next? I think abdicating our parental responsibilities to the government has proven itself to be a bad idea, ie the public welfare education system.  I also  am not following the motivation that you are attaching to these parents Jill: “…making a religious statement or political point.”  If someone is willing to sacrifice their child to make a political point then we are dealing with someone with psychosis, aren’t we?  I thought we were talking about parents who sincerely believe that they have a better option for the care of their children than the western medical doctors do. If someone is intentionally trying to hurt a child, that is a crime, even by negligence, but the  issue of motive is very relevant, or are you saying that a parent who has faith in a different way of treatment than a western medical doctor is equivalent to someone who intentionally wishes to harm a child?

  28. I agree with both of you, and I see nothing but more difficult problems the further I look at this.  Carole, a parent who made it a point of principle to let his child die from a curable disease rather than allow the government to tell him what to do would probably in fact be psychotic.  What drew me into this debate is that it seemed to me that Pastor Wilson supported–theoretically–the right of a parent to take this stand.  I know I am being stubborn and probably obtuse but I have trouble getting past the idea that if a government has proven itself to be wicked, it may not insist that a parent seek medical treatment for a child who is clearly dangerously ill.  It makes me want to ask:  In a more virtuous society where human life was treasured, would the state then have a right to protect the life (and again I have narrowed this to serious threats to life in the present moment) of a child whose parents are (in fact even if not in intention) letting it die rather than obtain care?  If so, how far does parental authority extend?  Is Pastor Wilson suggesting that a virtuous society will have some limits on this authority but a wicked society should not?  And yes, I think that a parent in America who is told “Your child as a ruptured appendix.  He is already in shock and will be in a coma within an hour.  We need to operate immediately.  If we don’t, your child will die”, and who decides he or she knows better, is willing the death of his child in the same way that a person who deliberately withholds food for a month is willing the death of his child.  I would find it so much easier to let go of this if there could at least be consensus that a parent’s right to sentence a child to death in a case as clear cut as this one should not be regarded as absolute.  Because it seems to me that insisting on this parental right in order not to relinquish more parental authority to the government is, in fact, playing politics with children’s lives.  I do see your concerns and they make sense.  Lots of people bring up children in horrible, irresponsible ways, and most of us, looking on, have to bite our tongues and just pray for those kids.  But this seems so different to me.

  29. Jill,  I don’t think you are being stubborn.  It is such a difficult and frightening problem on both sides.  I read about the cases that prompted the discussion as well.  I think something like locking a child in a suitcase is intolerable and criminal child abuse since the intent is to harm, but the other cases of appendix are difficult.  The parents weren’t told their child was going to die, because the parents never sought medical attention.  They listened to “nurses” from their belief practice; a belief that I clearly think is wrong. But here is my  concern.   How would the government now enforce this? When does it become legally mandatory to seek medical care?  A fever of 102., 103?  Will CPS be called if by the time we get to the doctor the fever has risen past the “mandatory” stage…I just see so many potentials for power abuse…at the same time, it is heart wrenching to think of those poor children whose parents listened to what I would consider crazy advice.  I just don’t see it as the governments responsibility to help these parents seek truth, I believe it as ours.  

  30. It is my understanding that in an emergency situation, parental consent is not required to treat a minor when death is imminent.  So, if the child were taken to a doctor, and the parents then refused to consent to treatment, I think,  according to the pediatric guidelines, the medical staff can proceed anyway.

  31. Sorry for over posting, but Jill, I think the essential component to this that we are leaving out is that the parents did believe they were seeking care for their children. They sought care from their religious organizations.  The caretakers are just not the professionals you or I would go to.  This is really along the same lines as Pastor Wilson’s post on telling others how to eat…right?  So I know folks who truly believe that chiropractors can cure just about everything, or acupuncture, and they are rather vocal about this belief.  I disagree.  But do we want our government telling us which kind of care we have to receive?  When we are mandated to take our children to receive medical services, will there be a list of which doctors qualify?

  32. How are parents who choose not to vaccinate and “using” the herd immunity putting the herd (those *already* vaccinated) at risk? If vaccines work why does it matter if some choose not to join in the herd. Since presumably the herd is protected from everything already?

  33. Maybe this will be the unpopular point of view but I don’t think the government ever has the right to step in and over rule peoples religious convictions in this manner.  A Jehovah’s Witness’s child should not be given blood regardless.  We keep focusing on the parents but I think an important thing being overlooked is the faith of the children as well.  I would love to convert every JW to Christianity and then their children can receive blood if needed but we are not to convert by the sword!

  34. Hi Kimberley and thank you.  One thing about the vaccine issue that I don’t really understand is would folks who don’t have their children vaccinated be fine with everyone not having their children vaccinated?  If they aren’t okay with that then it does seem sinful – Matthew 7:12.  However, I am not sure that I understand the rationale.  I always thought that people do believe vaccines work, but they are worried about the side effects.

  35. I spent a couple of hours finding out more about religious exemptions, and children are in fact better protected than I had realized. Until the 1970s, there were no such exemptions, and in most states a religious opposition to medical care was not defense to a charge of negligence or manslaughter if the child died. It was actually the federal government which required religious exemptions by tying them to federal funding for state child abuse programs. If you or I let our child die as a result not seeking medical care (whether out of ignorance, malice, or indifference), we would almost certainly face criminal prosecution. In most states, only those parents who belong to recognized religious denominations which forbid medical treatment would be immune from prosecution. This exemption does not apply before the fact, and if the authorities became aware that a faith healing family’s child was dangerously ill, that child would be removed from the home and given treatment regardless of parental wishes. In Idaho, the attorney general has noted that the right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose one’s child to ill health or death. The Idaho standard for intervention is immediate danger to the child’s health or safety. The numerous children interred in that Idaho cemetery remind us that these laws do nothing to help a child living in a closed and like-minded community. The purpose of the exemption laws are to simply to shield these parents from the criminal charges that every one of the rest of us would face in similar circumstances. If the reason for seeking to abolish the exemption is to frighten faith-healing parents into seeking medical care for their children, I don’t think it is likely to succeed. A mother who can watch her child die a lingering and agonizing death from a curable illness is probably quite willing to go to prison for the faith. But for your specific, excellent questions: we already all do have a duty to provide medical care for our children, and this duty is as enshrined in law as the duty to provide food and shelter. The issue was not that these parents first sought care from their church; it is that as the children continued to worsen, to display symptoms of imminent death, to go into comas, and to experience hemorrhagic bleeding, the parents refused to seek medical care. I might take my daughter to a chiropractor for her backache; if the backache not only fails to improve but is now accompanied by coma, I am criminally responsible if I still persist in demanding only chiropractic care. I think that a normally prudent parent is in little danger of being accused of medical neglect even if he waits until the child’s temperature is 103 before he calls the doctor, and I have enormous compassion for the prudent parent who makes a one-time tragic miscalculation. So, although I feel better about the plight of children whose parents belong to faith-healing groups, I am still troubled by Pastor Wilson’s take. Does a parent’s right to govern his own home and family extend to the right to refuse life-saving medical treatment for his child? Are a few dead children a year an acceptable price to pay to defend unlimited parental authority against officious government? If a lunatic view of Catholicism induced me to feed my child the communion wafer and nothing else, like St. Catherine of Siena, should my first amendment rights shield me from prosecution for her death by starvation? In each of these examples, the child’s life is seen as expendable in the service of a greater good. Not exactly a pro-life position.

  36. Short answer Jill, Yes.  The longer answer would entail looking at not just the parents but also the child’s faith.  Should you be forced to accept treatment that you find horrifying?  Should the government be able to force my wife to abort a high risk pregnancy since it could kill her?  The examples you give do not view the child’s life as expendable but rather recognize that some things are greater than our physical health and even life.  I don’t want the government forcing someone of any age to receive any particular medical treatment for the same reason that I don’t want the government forcing anyone to attend my church.  I do want to convert these people out of their religion and into Christianity and see that their children are then cared for. There are limits on what I am saying even here though.  For example I do not think any religion should be allowed to practice human sacrifice even if the sacrifice is “willing”.  To deny food and shelter (for instance the folks that think humans can live on sunlight alone) should be  a crimal offense regardless of religious belief.  Jill, what limits do you think should be placed on the government?  Should a Jehovah’s Witness be forced to receive blood?  Should a Christian’s child be forced to have an abortion?  If we give the government control over minor’s in such a case should we also relinquish control over the senior citizens?  If a man makes his desires known to his family but not in writing should the government get to decide how far to take life support?

  37. Hi Kimberley, of course the unvaccinated child does not put at risk the fully vaccinated members of the herd (I hate that word but it is the one used by epidemiologists in discussing this).  Herd immunity exists when around 95% of a population has been vaccinated for a specific disease.  However, at any point there will be members of the herd who are too young, too old, or too sick to be vaccinated.  A child receiving chemo and a 6 month old baby can’t get the MMR vaccine.  Both those children depend on herd immunity to keep the level of disease so low that they are not at risk of catching diseases which in their case might be deadly.  A few years ago a child in San Diego County contracted measles on a trip to Europe and triggered a mini-epidemic on his return.  Because many of his classmates were the offspring of vaccine protestors, quite a few got sick and the rest went into a lengthy and expensive quarantine.  If one of those children had taken measles home to a newborn baby, the results could have been tragic.  And this was measles.  They are lucky it wasn’t polio.  Public health experts are very worried at the rising rate of vaccination refusal, and at the recurrence of diseases they thought had been almost eradicated.  I understand that every child is potentially a bacteria-laden petri dish, and that we can’t make the desire to avoid every virus the central purpose of our lives.  But I think we have a duty not to let our children be deadly bio-weapons if we can help it.  But even all that isn’t really what I was getting at.  I think it is a selfish and cynical calculation if a parent thinks:  “They say vaccines are safe but I’m not sure.  I don’t want to take a chance with my child.  But I don’t want him to get diphtheria either.  Oh well, he won’t get it as long as the rest of the kids get vaccinated. Let those parents take the risk with their kids.” 

  38. Jill, no one wants to see children dying.  And these cases are beyond tragic.  I wonder though are we still missing the element of what these parents are thinking.  They believe that their children could get well, correct? I am assuming that they are not callous monsters standing by while their children die in agony.  I am imagining parents in fervent prayer. Parents who have been taught by their elders that they are following God’s commands and that their faith will save the child. If I am wrong in this assumption then I certainly don’t want them to be defended.  (I actually wonder why the elders and “nurses” of their church are not prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license).   However, I don’t follow your last point at all.  Why does this negate a pro-life position?  These parents are not seeking to kill their children.  Their intention is not to murder; isn’t that the essential difference?  Do you believe that their faith is a ruse?  Are they covering up their murderous intentions and calling it their religion?  What am I missing?

  39. Hi Carole, in one of the Oregon trials resulting from deaths among Follower children, there was damning testimony from numerous defense witnesses who said that there was no real expectation that prayer would save the child.  God decides who lives and who dies; we can pray about it, but we can’t under any circumstances get medical care to affect the outcome.  My problem is that this attitude does not characterize somebody who so fervently believes in the power of faith that he cannot imagine that his child’s healing will be denied.   I don’t imagine that they are callously indifferent, but the evidence suggests that they do, in fact, watch their children die agonizing deaths, that sometimes they recognize death is imminent, and that they prefer the death of the child to the violation of the religious conviction.  Without knowing anything about it, I am inclined to think the parish nurses could not be licensed by the state or they would be bound by child neglect reporting requirements.  I think the state may be reluctant to go after this type of “nurse” for the same reason they don’t want to go after parents in unorthodox religious groups.  My pro-life remark needs to be clarified.  I was not thinking of the parents of these children (I accept their faith is genuine, though misguided, and I am sure they love their children).  My point was that when other Christians consider that the life of a child is expendable in service of a greater good (freedom from government, unlimited parental authority, etc.), I don’t find that consistent with a pro-life ethic.  I read some of the trial transcripts and I am sure that has not helped me to take this issue calmly!

  40. So, the part that I am not following is how we get to other Christians believing that the life of the child is expendable for the greater good of freedom from government. My understanding of the Pastor’s post was that while this is an unspeakably tragic misplaced faith, people who actually do intentionally murder babies are not the folks who should be given further  power in order to try and prevent these tragedies.  I see it as a charge to us to spread the gospel, so that the parents of these children will come to the true understanding of our Lord.  However we plan to deal with this crisis, and we should try to deal with it, asking the government for further restrictions is not the best answer.

  41. It is always better to persuade than to coerce, and by far the better solution (other than conversion) is for relatives, friends, and neighbors to intervene to avoid tragedy.  I think I am becoming disagreeably dogmatic so I will just say one more time that a legitimate function of government is to protect the life and health of children and that a fear of government intrusiveness is, in my view, not a valid reason for stripping the state of this power–which, as I said, should be limited to immediate and deadly threats to the health of the child.  I understand why a government such as ours must be viewed with caution, even suspicion, and I generally support the right of parents to make decisions for their own children.  I know it is an over simplification to say that if we as Christians favor laws prohibiting abortion (as I do), we must display an equal amount of concern for the welfare of the living child.  But I think that is my sticking point.  Nonetheless, as always, you have given me lots to think about, and there can be no dispute between us about how desperately such children and their parents need our prayers.  Thank you, Carole.

  42. Yes, on this very important point we agree, and on most, I imagine.  Thank you, Jill for being willing to work these issues through with me.  I gain a lot from it.  I am thankful we are sisters in Christ!

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