Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Parental Decision Making and Faith Healing

While I'm on a bioethics thread ... I've been reading up on this case in Oregon. 

Parents Carl and Raylene Worthington are being charged with manslaughter in the death of their 15-month-old daughter because they refused to seek modern medical treatment and instead opted for faith healing. 

The child had bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, both of which the Oregon State Medical Examiner's officer have concluded could have been treated with antibiotics.  

I think it's always unfortunate when the state and the medical system have to interfere in the decisions of an individual family, but when the life of a child is at stake, sometimes it has to be done. Because, let's think about this, you don't want to interfere because of, first or all, the family's autonomy. Also because the parents should know the children the best and have their best interests at heart. Parents should be, and usually are, their child's greatest advocates. 

In the rare cases when the parents are making decision that clearly put the child at great risk, I think it's the responsibility of the state and the medical team to step in on behalf of the minor. 

It really doesn't seem fair to subject the child to religious beliefs that risk their life when they're yet too young to decide those issues for themselves. 

The Worthington case is even more complicated because the state isn't merely intervening in care; the parents are being brought up on criminal charges after the child's death. Oregon actually has a law that makes it illegal to rely solely on faith healing when you have a sick child who needs medical help. 

It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds—to see if the parents are convicted, and also to see if the law is amended at all now that it is facing its first real application.

Here's a great link for further reading on the ethics parental decision making in the medical process, if you're interested. 

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