Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Religion: A Death Sentence?

Colleen and Anthony Hauser are devout Roman Catholics, who also belong to the Nemenhah Band, a group that promotes beliefs and spirituality derived from Native American traditions.

When their son, Daniel, was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, they refused traditional medical treatments - instead pledging to 'cure' him with herbal supplements, vitamins and ionized water.

This, of course, had the side-effect of turning a highly curable condition like Hodgkins into a virtual death sentence. Despite the holistic treatment given to Daniel, court-ordered x-rays confirmed that the Hauser's treatment wasn't working and his tumor was continuing to grow.

As a result, a Minnesota judge last week ordered the Hausers to submit their son for traditional treatment - arguing that refusing the chemotherapy (and telling their son that such treatment would 'kill him') was nothing short of medical neglect.

But despite the evidence that she was effectively killing her son, Colleen and Daniel fled instead of undergoing chemotherapy - failing to turn up for court as demanded.

It's a tragic story - and one that's sharply polorized many people's opinion on parent's rights.

"Nanny knows best," writes Libertarian columnist Trevor Bothwell, sarcastically suggesting the the judge had reached his verdict "because chemotherapy apparently is a guaranteed cure for cancer. Because it's apparently painless. Because there apparently are no ill side effects. Because it apparently doesn't destroy every last healthy cell in the human body on the off-chance it will eradicate cancer cells."

Meanwhile, Atheist Michael Rosch defends the judge's decision: "This goes way beyond protecting the parents’ freedom of religion," he writes. "This should be a no-brainer decision." When it comes to Daniel's right to refuse treatment: "He's a minor, and not equipped to know the difference between real medicine and quackery."

The real killing blow? "The parents initially did agree to chemotherapy. It apparently wasn’t against their religion when they allowed his first treatment."

Since moving to America, I've become more and more open to the Libertarian-leanings of independent-minded Americans - but this is not a matter of personal or religious freedom. It's one thing to home school your kids with a Christian curriculum - it's another to actively deny them medical treatment that could save their lives.

As you'll know from this post, I'm deeply skeptical of the motives of pharmaceutical companies and the FDA - but even I believe them when they say that chemotherapy gives Daniel a 95% chance of survival. His parent's 'treatment' gives him the same percentage chance of dying.

Knowing that, how could any rational parent make the decision they did?

Religion makes people do some scary, scary things.

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