For many centuries, medicine and religion have been in close interrelation. A great number of religious ministrations and traditions are presented as care of surrounding people. However, today, medicine is considerably departed from religion, has become more developed and has gained new knowledge and experience. Nevertheless, some people still deny medicine and choose religious methods of treatment. Such phenomenon makes a strong dissonance in the sociology and ethics, and the solution to this problem is still not found. Thus, the problem of denial of medicine should be investigated in more detail in order to assume effective solutions to this problem.
Nowadays, American courts guarantee people freedom of religion. In the general sense, courts broadly interpret the concept of religious freedom including both the majority of religious practices and religious belief. In other words, people are free to prefer religious ritual and prayer instead of professional medical treatment for a disorder or disease. Thus, adults can receive medical attention, apply for faith healing, or try herbal or other alternative courses of treatment every time they face any health problem. Besides, people are even allowed to deny any kinds of treatment at all. In this regard, some guardians and parents choose the same options toward their children. Such approach causes numerous conflicts within society concerning the question whether the parents may follow their religion and reject any medical care for their children even if they are death sick. In addition, this issue is aggravated by certain faith groups creating such culture, which teaches that any medical treatment rejects God (Hall, 2013).
Implicitly, the U.S. legislation provides almost complete freedom to guardians and parents to deny or admit medical treatment to their children because children are considered to be incapable of giving authorized consent for their treatment. Nevertheless, Child Protective Services and courts use to interfere and order clinical treatment for children in life-threatening medical conditions, even though the parents make a stand against medical treatment (Torrey, 2014).
Statistics show that thousands of American children die from abuse or neglect of their parents annually. In fact, approximately one child dies every month in the USA because of the parents who denied medical treatment of their offspring. The common reason is their assurance that a disorder is easily treated and, thus, they use to rely on prayer. Nevertheless, statistics reveal that children die of disorders or diseases, which are almost doubtlessly treated when timely medical care is provided (Hall, 2013).
The parents' truth is the major cause of this problem. Typically, Christianity is based upon following four considerations: the meaning of the Bible in accordance with the interpretation of their faith group, traditional beliefs of this group, scientific findings, and personal experience. Many religions, such as Pentecostals, fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, evangelicals, consider the first two criteria more important than the third and the fourth ones and, thus, follow them. Some parents ignore and disregard medicine and other scientific approaches and knowledge and follow their religious beliefs solely. The key factor is not the message the Bible sends, but the meaning of this message today (Forsloff, 2009).
For example, the Old Testament demands to completely get rid of blood in meat before it is consumed. Jews thus do not eat the meat containing blood. However, Jehovah's Witnesses interpret this tendency as obligatory for modern Christians. They also claim that on the basis of this fragment, the Bible forbids blood transfusion even if it is vital. Besides, the New Testament does not recommend believers to ask the doctor for help. Jesus advised to be treated by means of addressing God, i.e. a prayer. However, the fact that knowledge in medicine was very poor, and the probability to recover with the help of a doctor was insignificant was negligible at that time. Therefore, then, it was better to allow the nature to take its course. However, only at the beginning of the 20th century, the medicine was enriched with knowledge sufficiently that a visit to the doctor has become very favorable. Nevertheless, as the statistics show, visiting a doctor is still a taboo for deeply devout people (Hall, 2013).
In addition, society and science have to answer the question whether the meaning of the Bible passages is interpreted in an appropriate form corresponding to the modern world tendencies. Currently, some faith groups teach their members to avoid taking advantage of modern medicine and hospitals because they are not mentioned in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. These faith groups believe that the laying on of hands, prayer and anointing represent the only acceptable ways of treatment. Thus, such incorrect beliefs and interpretations of the Bible are the major reasons why some parents refuse medical treatment, while professional healthcare and hospitals are universally acceptable in the developed world. Moreover, the majority of Christian denominations encourage their members to benefit from professional medical care (Greenawalt, 2006).
Numerous deaths of children, caused by negligence of their religious parents or guardians who relied on the miracle and prayer, caused a resonance within the legislative bodies of the USA. However, the problem is not still solved since each state has its own approach to both punishment and absolution of religious parents abusing their children in terms of treatment. Thus, in many states, parents and guardians are still permitted to use a religious defense in cases even their children died because, in fact, they used prayer in place of medical treatment (Greenawalt, 2006).
For instance, in 1994, legislative committees of Oregon heard testimonies on the bills requiring all parents and guardians to assure that their seriously injured or sick children receive professional medical care. Unlike testimonies provided by Christian Scientists, these bills were supported by physicians, law enforcement, child advocates, and social workers. In their turn, Christian Scientists only claimed that eliminating the faith defense from Oregon's statutes would unjustly outrage their religious rights. Later, the committee adopted a compromise faith healing bill according to which defendants could apply for faith healing as their defense. The same year, the government of Minnesota adopted a law requiring guardians and parents to notify local child protection services in cases if they refused medical services for treatment of their children. Moreover, parents and guardians have to alert these services that they are responsible for endangering their children (Robinson, 2010).
In 1998, in Texas, local and state legislators and numerous associations came out for the protection of children whose parents intended to reject medicine due to their religious beliefs. In 2001, in Colorado, exemption laws for religious parents were eliminated by the Academy of American Pediatrics. Such decision was caused by the increasing number of rates of a juvenile death, which paralleled the increase in anti-medical faith groups in Colorado and Oregon. For example, it was recorded that three children died in one church during three years. As a result, legislators were motivated to vote down the exemptions from the child abuse law according to which parents were protected from abuse charges if they refused medical treatment for their children (Robinson, 2010).
In 2002, legislation of 38 states shielded those parents and guardians, which refused medical care for their children for the benefit of faith healing, from persecution. Nevertheless, some states obligated parents to consult with a physician if the condition of the child was life-threatening. In 2009, it was reported by the members of the Iowa Children's Health Care Association that over 300 children have died in the USA during last 25 years due to the decision of their parents to withheld medical care on their religious grounds. Thus, the association advocated for charging those parents who did not wish to seek professional medical treatment. At the same time, 30 states still have exemptions in their child abuse laws, offering some forms of protection for the faith healers in cases of child neglect (Robinson, 2010).
Some U.S. laws do not prosecute parents only in cases if their children have a non-life threatening disease or condition. For example, the criminally negligent homicide legislation of Oregon mandates the prosecution to provide forcible arguments proving that the defendant knew about unjustifiable and substantial risk representing a significant deviation from norms known to a reasonable person in such situation. However, both cases are difficult to be proved in court because parents or guardians may claim that they lacked medical knowledge or did not know about the seriousness of the child's condition. One of the most efficient decisions of this problem can be traced in the British law. According to the British law, parents are obligated to seek physician's help for their children if the condition of the child was not improved after three days of non-medical treatment (Torrey, 2014).
Taking into account all abovementioned information, it should be noted that religion and medicine are often controversial phenomena in the modern world. Due to the reason that many parents and guardians refuse professional medical care in favor of faith healing by means of prayers, a dramatic increase of deaths among children occurs. For the last decades, these figures caused a resonance in legislative bodies of all American states. Nevertheless, the problem is still not solved because each state has its own laws, some of which allow parents to follow their beliefs, while some provide prosecution of child neglect cases. However, the U.S. government should find a compromise and solve this problem as soon as possible because the number of registered deaths of children deprived of professional treatment is increasing annually.
Forsloff, C. (2009). Religion and the refusal of medical treatment: Rights and responsibilities. Yahoo Voices. Retrieved from http://voices.yahoo.com/religion-refusal-medical-treatment-rights-2641729.html
Greenawalt, K. (2006). Objections in conscience to medical procedures: Does religion makes a difference? University of Illinois Law Review. Retrieved from http://illinoislawreview.org/wp-content/ilr-content/articles/2006/4/Greenawalt.pdf
Hall, H. (2013). Faith healing: Religious freedom vs. child protection. Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/faith-healing-religious-freedom-vs-child-protection/
Robinson, B. A. (2010). Parents withholding medical treatment from their children; legal exemptions. Religious Tolerance. Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/medical1.htm
Torrey, T. (2014). Do patients have the right to refuse medical treatment? About.com. Retrieved from http://patients.about.com/od/decisionmaking/tp/Do-Patients-Have-The-Right-To-Refuse-Medical-Treatment.htm