Not like I have an answer or anything.

Apr 2, 2008
This weekend the news was all full of the story of an eleven-year-old Wisconsin girl who died of diabetes, untreated by traditional medicine because her parents were Christian Scientists and believed in healing through prayer. They were discussing it on NPR the other morning -- with a pediatrician as a guest, possibly not the best choice there guys -- making this the second NPR show in a month I've had to turn off to make the stupid go away.

Stories like this make me hugely uncomfortable, and it's hard to explain why without people assuming that I think parents have the right to abuse their children in the name of religious freedom, which I don't. By the gods, who would?; children don't get to pick their parents' religion, and there are some things that just cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

But not taking a child to a medical doctor isn't abuse. It is neglect, although it's also worth noting that it's entirely legal in the state of Wisconsin to rely on prayer instead of medical attention. Mostly what this is is a violation of social norms: our society places an extremely high value on medical science and a relatively low one on the efficacy of prayer, and when presented with people who not only feel otherwise but act as if their beliefs are really true, there's a bit of an outcry.

I'm not saying the values of our society holds about healing are arbitrary; they're supported by a good deal of experience and trial-and-error. They're also values I agree with and support myself. It's not so much that I'm on the side of the Christian Scientists as that I'm put off by the people who are against them. The NPR callers were going on about how irrational this decision was, how it showed a lack of common sense. Look, people. Their daughter died. I doubt that they didn't consider the possibility. Maybe they have a different definition of common sense.

I don't want to dismiss the fact that this isn't just a theological dispute but one that has -- had -- very real consequences, but that's part of what gets under my skin. Why is it that so few theological disputes do have consequences? And I definitely don't want to make it a noble-sounding thing to let your child die of diabetes; there's an air of martyrdom that can creep into the discussion there. I just don't find the parents' decision particularly irrational.

All it is, is here's a minority religious group with some fringe beliefs (and some very mainstream ones; they are Christian Scientists after all) that a lot of people, myself included, believe ought to be legally prevented from following all the tenets of their religion. And that makes me uncomfortable.

No comments: