Belief can kill

December 1, 2007

A 14 year old boy dies of leukemia after refusing treatment for religious reasons:

Because of his faith, Dennis Lindberg, 14, didn’t want vital transfusions; his biological parents did. A judge sided with the son, who died last night.

It just makes me want to scream.

Doctors said he needed blood transfusions to survive potentially lifesaving cancer treatments. But as a practicing Jehovah’s Witness, Lindberg refused. Despite his age, he had been declared what is known as a “mature minor,” meaning he was considered mature enough to make decisions about his treatment.

Mature minor? At 14? At 14 I wanted to be bloody Frodo Baggins. Imagine if I had been allowed to make life changing decisions based on that.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe accepting a blood transfusion violates God’s law.

And just why do they believe that? Largely because of four passages in the Bible that they interpret as prohibiting the consumption of blood:

  • Genesis 9:4 “But flesh (meat) with…blood…ye shall not eat”
  • Leviticus 17:12-14 “…No soul of you shall eat blood…whosoever eateth it shall be cut off”
  • Acts 15:29 “That ye abstain…from blood…”
  • Acts 21:25 “…Gentiles…keep themselves from things offered to idols and from blood…”

I suppose you could argue that provides a pretty clear prohibition against lifesaving blood transfusions. Somehow. If you really tried to.

And what about the prohibitions against seafood and clothing of two different threads and all that horror about managing slaves? How is it reasonable to refuse medical treatment based on a tenuous interpretation of one lot of vaguely worded passages from the bible, and yet ignore other passages because you think they are silly?

His aunt, Dianna Mincin, became his legal guardian four years ago after his father, now a recovering addict, was jailed for drug possession.

Mincin is also a Jehovah’s Witness, and supported Dennis’ decision.<
The boy’s biological parents did not.

Drug addict doesn’t equal stupid.

With the transfusions and other treatment, Lindberg had been given a 70 percent chance of surviving the next five years, Meyer said in court, based on what the boy’s doctors told him. Without them, he was likely to die. But his decision in what the judge called a “stunning case, which brings into play issues including, but not confined to, religious freedoms,” was based strictly on facts.
“I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision,” Meyer said during Wednesday’s court proceedings.
“I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.”

This kid is not considered by the sate to be old enough to make the decision to vote, have sex, smoke or drink, but somehow he is considered old enough to commit himself to nearly certain death because of a belief system he picked up from his Aunt. Brilliant. The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t need to worry about persecution – they’re killing themselves.

Lindberg Sr. said his son was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow that is the most common in children. Most children with this type of leukemia are cured after treatment, which can include blood transfusions, according to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Dr. Douglas Diekema, an ethicist at Children’s and director of education at the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics, said the question was whether a 14-year-old really had the maturity to make medical and religious decisions on his own.

I don’t think that it is appropriate to put the religious and medical decisions in the same context here. The medical case was an objective one, the religious decision a subjective one – he had cancer, and the price of refusing treatment was the same regardless of what he chose to believe.

But what if the boy had been a Christian Scientist and refused treatment because he thought that prayer would be enough? What if he was dangerously psychotic but refused medication because he was a Scientologist? Where is the point that we no longer automatically respect someone’s belief? When it harms them? When it harms someone else?

“In my mind, if there is a role of the court it would be to test a 14-year-old and see just how intense he is about his decision,” said Diekema. “My approach would be to push it a little further. If he fights you physically, then I’d respect that. But also, are you willing to tie him down every time he needs a transfusion knowing he’ll need treatment for the next three years? You’ll have a hard time finding a provider willing to do that.”

Intensity and stubbornness do not equate to maturity, nor do they support the correctness of an argument.

I have a story. Listen:

When I was around 14 I fought tooth and nail to not put on sunscreen when I played outside. It was oily and smelly and I thought that the other kids would make fun of me.

Did my parents have to respect that? Hell no. Did they have to physically force me to put sun screen on for the next three years until grew up a bit and stopped being so unreasonable? Damn right.

But they were right. And I was wrong. And because they forced me, I have a considerably lower chance of contracting skin cancers than I would have if they had respected the intensity of my decision.

I’m glad to be alive to thank them for saving me from myself.

Thanks to Paul for the link.

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