Children should not have to suffer because of their parents’ religion

September 21, 2018

It’s no shock that certain religions prohibit various medical procedures. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not receive blood transfusions and Christian Scientists value faith-based healing instead of traditional Western medicine. Even though this sounds similar to osteopathic medicine, it is quite the opposite.

Osteopathic medicine focuses on using alternatives to attempt to treat an illness or issue before resorting to medication, while these religions choose to forgo medication completely and believe that their faith will heal them. I grew up as a child with an osteopathic doctor, so I didn’t immediately get antibiotics to help cure my illness but rather tried alternative forms as much as possible. However, sometimes the medication is necessary in order to get better.

Just recently, according to an NPR article, the parents of a 10-month-old girl were charged with felony murder and first-degree child abuse for withholding medical care. The autopsy of her body showed that she was both malnourished and dehydrated when she passed away.

Due to the nature of the current court case and the privacy of the parents, their religious beliefs were not disclosed in the article.

The unfortunate thing about this case is that it is not the first time a child has died due to religious exemptions. Over the past few decades, hundreds of children around the U.S. have died or been stillborn from neglect justified by faith-based healing. Every state within the U.S. has laws that protect children against neglect and abuse, but over half of the states have religious exemptions, which basically gives folks the legal ability to withhold treatment on the basis of their religious beliefs.

But similar to the campaign for children to choose their own gender when they are able to understand the differences, shouldn’t the same be used for religion? I realize that many people are extremely devoted to their religion, but it seems as though more and more of the younger generations are beginning to question their inherited faith and consciously decide whether their parents’ religion fits their beliefs.

Having not grown up in a religious home, I was able to create my own opinion on religion without pressure from my parents to follow a certain religion. Oftentimes it seems as though children are thrown into a religion by their parents, without even being given the option of backing out. Although it is a common phrase at Brandeis, whether you’re Jewish or “Jew-ish”, (based on how devout you are), I don’t hear this as often with other religions.

Either medicine or religion have to adjust to the other in order to form a more perfect harmony. Although this is not likely to happen, the interactions between the two must improve in order to provide the best treatment and care for all individuals. Duke University has created an interesting program within their Divinity School called “theology, medicine and culture,” which teaches medical school students about understanding different religions that may not trust modern medicine and how to deal with them respectfully.

While the question of religion in the realm of medicine is very controversial, I would like to believe that a child’s life is something worth fighting for. They are the next generation, the ones that succeed us, the ones that continue to shape the world that we have given them. When children are not even given a chance to heal with Western medicine before trusting everything to faith, I find issue in this.

Everyone should be able to make their own decisions about how they live their lives, especially when it comes to one’s faith. No one should be forced to be a part of a religion they do not feel passionate about. And innocent children who are unaware should not have to suffer just because their parents reject Western medicine and prefer to use faith in order to heal.

I feel like it is justifiable for the laws to have religious exemptions, but I believe there should be a limit to the extent that the exemptions can be utilized by religious people. Life is the essence of our being and cannot be taken lightly. Until children are able to make their own decision about their religion, there should not be a religious exemption for parents who refuse medical treatment. These children are the next generation, the new minds and thinkers of the world, and their lives should not be cut short because of beliefs of a religion they may not believe in.

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