Suffer not the little children?
February 3, 2007
It’s an old story, but it never ceases to amaze me. Parents refuse life saving medical intervention for their children on the basis of their religious beliefs (Jehovah’s Witnesses in this case, but could just as easily be Christian Scientists or any one of a number of groups with similar prohibitions). The government steps in after two of the children die and has the remaining children treated.
Officials had this to say:
“Our obligation to protect children is paramount,” British Columbia Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen told reporters yesterday after it was revealed three of the children were taken into protective custody temporarily.
“We don’t take any such action without a great deal of forethought, recognising that it’s a significant step for the state to interfere in a family,” said Mr Christensen. “But we want to ensure in every case that children are receiving the attention they require.”
If someone refused treatment for their children because aliens (who talk to them through a radio in their head) told them it was wrong, they’d be put in an asylum. It seems that the legitimacy and the respect afforded to the belief of a particular invisible person is a function of the number of people who believe it.
The father said in an affidavit:
“My wife and I deeply love our babies and want them to live. We continue to be heartbroken about the death of two of them. We will not, however, consent to blood transfusions. We firmly believe that our creator commands us in scriptures such as Acts 15:28-29 to abstain from blood products”
So the government minister says that a child’s welfare trumps the family’s religious beliefs, while the family claims their right of religious freedom has been violated. The children obviously cannot decide for themselves, but I’m not sure I can countenance the parent’s applying their beliefs to them. To be honest, I don’t understand how anyone can follow a religion that stops them from allowing relatively simple treatment that would greatly increase the children’s chances of survival.
University of Victoria bio-ethicist Eike-Henner Kluge argued that freedom of religion guaranteed in Canada’s constitution does not apply to babies because they cannot express their wishes.
“While the parents are at liberty to make martyrs of themselves, their children aren’t,” he told the Globe and Mail newspaper.
I don’t have children of my own, but if my step daughter’s life was in danger I’d do just about anything to save her. And if I had beliefs that stood in my way, then I’d be thinking pretty hard about what was wrong with my beliefs, because there is sure as hell nothing wrong about me wanting to save my little girl.
But then I’m just an atheist. What do I know about morality?