Faith Healing vs. Child Protection
by L-M-B on September 13, 2016 - 8:44am
In 1977, Rita and Doug Swan, both Christian Scientists, did not believe in modern medicine, thinking that having “faith in God” was the only necessary “medical treatment”. According to them, being ill was an illusion, so instead of bringing Matthew, their sixteen months old baby who suffered from severe fevers, to the hospital, they paid a Christian Science practitioner to do some prayers for their baby. The practitioner told the parents that the fevers were caused by fear, and that the baby would recover with the prayers. Unfortunately, the fevers did not go away, but the parents did not want to reject their life-long beliefs. They decided to call a more specialized practitioner, who accused Rita of losing faith, therefore sabotaging her work. As the baby started convulsing, the mother decided it was time to bring Matthew to the hospital. However, she told the doctor that Matthew was suffering of a broken bone, as it is one of the things that the Church allowed to be treated by a doctor, and never mentioned the fevers. The baby was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and a brain abscess. Because the parents waited to long to bring Matthew to the hospital, the treatments did not work for him and he died afterwards.
In this case study, the moral question being asked is: Does religious freedom justifies child negligence? One can argue the principle of autonomy, which, in this case, would be letting adults reject the idea of medical treatment because of their religious beliefs. However, as children depend on their parents, they have the responsibility to do what’s best for them. With the case of Matthew, the “do no harm” rule could apply, as so for the sanctity of life. A sixteen months old baby cannot take the decision for himself as whether or not he wants to heal his fevers with the power of faith. It is the parents’ responsibility to know when faith is not working and medicine is necessary.
Society has the duty to protect the children from harm and, in my opinion; people’s religious beliefs should not interfere with the care of their children. For example, in Georgia, United States, an eight years old child, Josef Smith, was beaten to death by his parents due to an exorcism. This is a serious case, and even though I can understand that the parents believed they were doing the right thing to “save” their child, death should not have been the outcome of their act. This is a tragic situation that could’ve been avoided, as any responsible parents should’ve known better than beating their child to death. It seems to me that the same principle applies for the case of Matthew Swan or in any other case of child neglect. Why should the life of an innocent child is put at risk due to his parents’ beliefs?
Hall, Harriet. Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection. Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 38.4, 2014, http://www.csicop.org/si/show/faith_healing_religious_freedom_vs._child_protection . Accessed 9 September 2016.