Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Health of Children vs. The Religious Beliefs of Parents


Over Spring Break, I came across a very interesting article while reading the New York Times online. The article, an opinion piece, argues that states should no longer grant statutory rights and religious exemptions to parents who do not believe in medical care. These parents argue that their faith restricts them from granting their children resources including, but not limited to, immunization, health screenings, and medical care.

Most states have at least some religious exemptions, though some states have enacted exemptions that call into question whether a family’s religious beliefs are truly more important than the health of the children. Idaho, for example, has exempted parents who do not want to allow their children to have lifesaving medical care for religious reasons. As a result, many children have died in Idaho over the past few years because they were not allowed to have medical care.

While the question of whether a family’s religious beliefs should come before the interests that the state has to keep its members safe and healthy is most prominent, a factor that must be considered is also those around a sick child in this type of situation. Classmates, teachers, the parents themselves, and even strangers on the street can be immune to the sickness or disease the child has. For instance, the article states that “in 2007 just two cases of measles among religious objectors cost Oregon and a hospital $170,000. Teachers have to stay home; schools have to hire substitutes. Working parents have to stay home with children in quarantine.” Certainly, I don’t think money should be taken into consideration when trying to solve these questions. At the same time, the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the health of its citizens and when multiple people, and possibly hundreds of people in the case of measles, are at risk of serious health issues, I believe the state needs to step in and draw the line between religious exemptions and public safety.

Another question that comes up is whether the parents should get to choose not only what their children believe in but also the resources they can have access to or whether the children should be able to choose. This is tough because often times, the children are young and not capable of choosing. While their individual rights are certainly called into question, an argument could be made that their parents pay for their bills and pay for everything they own, so the parents should be able to decide what to spend on medical care, for example. I believe that the parents should be able to decide on their own what to spend their money on when it comes to their children, so long as the child’s health and safety is not at risk. If a sickness or disease should be cured through ways that a religion may not believe in but does not need to be cured through any of those ways, the parent or parents should not be forced to choose something that goes against their religion. If, however, the disease or sickness requires immediate attention or needs to be cured through a method that goes against the parents’ religion, the state should step in and protect the child over everything else. In these circumstances, the state has a duty and that duty should not be overridden by anything else, including religion.


Should the state intervene in situations when a family's religious beliefs are the motivating factor behind their decision to risk their child or children's health? Should the child be able to have a say? Where do you think the line should be drawn? Should the state be involved in all scenarios involving health or only the more serious ones?

4 comments:

Nneoma I. said...

These types of cases are difficult to side on. First, parents should have the right to raise their child in the way they feel best shapes them for adulthood. The government allows venues like homeschooling for parents to have control over the way their children learn. However, government interferes with parenting when they feel the children are endangered. Things like abuse and instability amongst adults can separate a child from their home. So can the government consider "health" the common interest over personal parenting style? I say yes. Although religion may be the root of their decision, diseases like measles that go untreated can infect not only the child but their peers as well. If we use the parenting excuse for medical care, couldn't we use that same excuse for maltreatment. Parents could take biblical text and prove it okay to be violent or abusive with their kids. This is a red flag for a slippery slope on parenting in relation to religion. I think the government should allow children of a mature age to choose to be exempt from medical care. All infants and children should receive proper vaccination and treatment for the wellbeing of themselves and others.

Adam Drake said...

I also believe that the state has a right as well as a compelling interest to intervene in these medical situations. As Nneoma mentioned, diseases such as measles can spread through a population and affect many. I would say that this is one of the rare occasions where it is the right decision to draw a line between belief and action. It is okay for the parents to believe that the vaccinations or medical procedures are wrong, but not okay to prevent their children from receiving life saving medical care or vital vaccinations. Once the child is deemed an adult they have a right to refuse treatment. The state should only be able to intervene when the well being of the child is in question. For example, the state cannot say that the child must take a certain antibiotic over another or that they must see one pediatrician versus another. These decisions should be lift to the parents.

Trevor T said...

I believe that when there is a medical cure to an illness or injury and a parent prevents a child, who is incapable of deciding for themselves, from receiving treatment due to their religious beliefs, it is a form of abuse and the government should intervene for the well-being of the child. If the child is too young to make its own medical decisions then the child is most likely too young to have fully researched and developed their religious beliefs and should not be subjected to suffer due to their parents religion. I believe this is also a situation for belief vs action. If the parents don't believe in western modern medicine due to their religious belief that is fine, but when they put into action their belief and it negatively impacts the health of their children and those around them, that is a violation and requires intervention. This decision in the "private" family sphere doesn't just impact those who hold the religious belief, and therefore there is in cases such as the measles, a compelling state interest to intervene.

Frank Sit said...

It is not just the mental health system that has to change, but the education system. Children who have experienced both Trauma or trauma, are referred to mental health because of their behavior in school. Treatment is to meet the educators' needs, not the child or the family. Many hands get tied that way. If medication is postponed with therapy only, and the behavior doesn't improve quickly enough, the child is at risk of placement anyway.......Our major public institution where children spend most of their days, is not equipped to respond to symptoms that manifest as behaviors. Everything is labeled defiance and treated with punishment. It is a tragedy of epic proportion.
GE 3S