Thursday, May 21, 2009

A fine line

I noticed headline on Google today about parents who are refusing medical care for their children in favor of their religious beliefs.

Now, I am not religious, and while I believe that the mind does have a lot of influence over the body, there are some things it just can't do. I can't make the islet cells in my pancreas come back to life just by believing they will, for instance.

So I don't think very highly of people who reject modern medicine for faith healing when the former is guaranteed to save the person's life. I do, however, support the right of the individual to choose not to go through — or not to put their child through — painful treatments if there is not guarantee they are going to work.

If you read the article, it mentions an 11-year-old girl who died of untreated type 1 diabetes. Her parents believed so strongly that their faith would heal her that they wouldn't even give her insulin — a medicine that is not only proven to work, but that type 1 diabetics will die without! In other words, there is absolutely no reason to refuse this medication, and every reason to take it.

The main focus of the story, on the other hand, is a mother who is refusing chemotherapy for her 13-year-old son. Of course, I don't know all of the details, but I do know that chemo causes a great deal of discomfort for the patient, and it doesn't always work. Chemo actually kills the body's natural defenses, and the doctors just hope that the cancer will die first. If the chances of it working in this boy's case aren't very good, I don't blame his mother at all for refusing it. If your son is going to die either way, wouldn't you rather he died a peaceful death?

Of course, that's not her thinking, and I do recognize that the government is trying to protect children. However, I still hold that parents have the right to choose whether or not to get certain treatments for their child, within reason. The difficult part is trying to determine what is reasonable and what is not.

Like I said, I think if the treatment is not very likely to work, and is almost certain to cause a great deal of discomfort for a very slim chance of recovery, then a parent has every right to refuse it. Refusing to give a diabetic child insulin, on the other hand, constitutes refusing a lifesaving treatment that does almost no harm.

Is it just me, or can you see the difference here too? What are your thoughts on the issue?

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