Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lunacy in sanity?

I am a firm believer in self determination. If someone is ill, that person has the right to dictate the kind of treatment he/she wishes to receive and whether or not to continue with the regime. This is fairly straight forward when one is dealing with a functional adult of sound mind.

But what if that person is a minor?

The bioethics involved in treating a minor is still in a murky zone. Status quo indicates that the decision regarding the welfare of a minor rests in the hand of the child's guardian. Hence, the guardian has a a right to push or even reject a treatment for a minor. This is easy enough if a child has no bigger complains than the usual coughs and colds and playground injuries. However, it has come to fore of parents (and guardians) who are refusing treatment or seeking harmful or even allowing the minor to remain untreated for reasons of faith or even non-spiritual belief.

In the case of Colleen Hauser and her son, Daniel, who fled their home in Minnesota to escape court-ordered chemotherapy, who is in the right? The mother, who believes that her child should not have toxic materials injected in him because she favors the natural healing methods of an American Indian religious group known as the Nemenhah Band? Or is it the court who determines that Daniel would benefit from conventional treatment that has been proven to cure Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Many cultures imbue the right of parents to determine the decisions affecting their children. It is not uncommon in Asia for neighbours to look the other way while a child is being disciplined; of course in some cases, such discilinary measures not only verge but enter the realm of abuse and still people will accept that it is the right of the parents to act in such a manner. In the West, this feature has changed with the adoption of bills that prohibit parents from using corporal discipline on their children. It got to such that a mother cannot smack her toddler's bottom for being mischeavous in public.

But in the case of Colleen and Daniel, who have the right to determine what is best for him? It would seem to many that his mother is jeopardising his life by refusing him treatment and influencing him to reject it as well. In the case of Madeline Kara Neumann, who died from untreated diabetes complication, her mother rejected conventional medicine and instead, chose to have her healed via faith healing. Whether it is laying of hands or dependence on supplements and sweat boxes, these are parents who chose other treatment options for their children out of their own particular belief system (regardless of what faith they hold to). One of the extreme cases involved very young children who had the devil tormented out of them by a rabbi with consent from their mother. One of the child now suffers permanent brain damage.

As a person of faith, I am appalled at how belief system can be perverted in such a way as to inadvertently harm vulnerable children. But then again, people have used faith to justify harming other people with purely malicious intent. One would think that with the brain that The Almighty has gifted them, they could reason better than that.

But apparently, not.

*shakes head*

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