An 11-year old girl died from a treatable form of diabetes in Wisconsin recently. Here’s the local article on the subject.
The problem with this case (and many others like it, all over the world), is that the so-called parents of this child decided that they were going to pray her well. Despite the pleas of other family members, the “parents” decided that praying for her to get well was preferable to taking the girl to a doctor.
Many people might read that and say, “So? Strangers die every day.”
If this were an isolated case, one might be tempted to agree. Sadly, this case is not unique. Parents all over the world resort to prayer or faith healing when their children get sick, and all too often the child dies as a result.
Most children are not mentally or emotionally equipped to properly assess the risks for such decisions. This legal and scientific fact is the reason parents are given so much control over children. If an adult strongly believed that prayer could save him or her from a deadly illness, that adult should be permitted to make such a decision (so long as no one else is harmed or endangered). Adults make life or death decisions all the time, and they have a right to do so if those decisions do not harm or endanger anyone else.
That’s where the adult’s decisions in life-or-death matters runs into problems with the law: when those decisions harm or endanger another. This is especially true when the person endangered or harmed by their decision is under the legal control of the adult. Part of the bargain wherein society permits parents so much control over their children is the idea that the parents will do what is best for the child. Somebody please tell me how letting a child die of an easily-treatable disease is in the child’s best interest.
A lot of people suffering from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa have revived an old myth which says they can cure their disease by having unprotected sex with a virgin. Children are sometimes forced to have sex with AIDS-infected men in the stupid belief that this will somehow cure the disease. The end result is that more people are infected, and the cycle continues.
Polio was nearly wiped out a generation ago. But now there are epidemics of the disease in Africa and Asia because local superstition holds that the inoculation against polio actually causes AIDS. Religious leaders in these areas are particularly guilty of spreading this tale. Apparently it is better in the eyes of Angry Invisible Skyman that people die from easily-prevented diseases than to permit thousands of years of medical science to benefit True Believers.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have permitted children to die rather than permit life-saving blood transfusions. Scientologists don’t believe in psychology or psychiatry, and several people have been injured or killed when people with serious mental illnesses have become violent for lack of commonly available drugs to treat their conditions. Various fundamentalist Christian sects have allowed children to die of easily treatable illnesses because it was “God’s will”.
People in sub-Saharan Africa who are dependent upon local religious leaders for decision-making might, perhaps, be forgiven for their stupidities. If few people are literate (this is not the case throughout Africa, of course), their literate leaders are in the position of parent. If the parent makes stupid decisions for dependents, then those dependents should not be blamed for the consequences.
Blame should rest upon those who live in areas where accurate information is freely available, but the stupid decisions are made regardless of the facts. In the United States, there is no excuse for ignorance. With the sheer quantity of information freely available and widely distributed throughout the country, there is no excuse to rely upon prayer to cure a child’s diabetes. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where condoms and AIDS information are freely available, there is no excuse for deliberately infecting children with HIV in the vain hope that virginity will somehow magically cure the disease.
You can believe in an Angry Invisible Skyman to your heart’s content. You can even live by whatever flavor of Angry Invisible Skyman worship you wish- if you’re an adult and decide to do so. You have no right to inflict your beliefs upon others. You have no right to allow a child to die just because you think praying to Angry Invisible Skyman version 2.0 will magically heal her. You have no right to allow polio to kill and maim others because your favorite superstition says that would be a good thing.
Why do we- as a species- permit this sort of anti-survival behavior?
“All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can—and must—be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible.” -RAH
Current status: Disgusted
Current music: Seven Seas of Rhye by Queen