Religion, Medicine and Children

Currently in the news is the case of the Minnesota teenager, Daniel Hauser.  Daniel has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  He received one treatment of chemotherapy before deciding to try treatment by alternative means, claiming religious belief inspired the change of treatment.  The court has become involved in the case. 

Historically, our country has been divided over how far we are willing to allow religion to dictate treatment of children with curable conditions.  Jehovah Witnesses have often made the news with their refusal of receiving blood transfusions.  Recently, in the courts there have been cases where parents felt that prayer and faith were all that were needed for their children to be healed. 

At the core of this problem is that we are struggling over freedoms, rights and responsibility.  How far do we allow religious freedom to dictate action?  Does a child have a right to the statistically most successful treatment?  Do parents have final responsibility for the welfare of a child, or does the State?   To what extent are we willing to allow religious freedom to dictate the medical treatment of children?  Are we willing to undermine personal freedom, parental authority, and entire religious communities ways of life?  Does society have the right to demand compliance?  These are questions that are not easily answered.  We should think carefully before we take action as the decisions may have far reaching implications.

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4 Responses to “Religion, Medicine and Children”

  1. morsec0de Says:

    I think it comes down to the fact that children should be protected, even from their own parents.

    We recognize that, legally at least, a minor is not able to make many important decisions and choices about their own life. And so decisions that could lead to the death of the child (alcohol use, medical treatments, driving) need to be made for them.

    Now, if this young man was an adult, I would support his decision to refuse treatment. I would disagree with it, and hope that someone would convince him otherwise, but it would be his decision. Because, essentially, it’s the decision to let himself die.

    And that’s what the decision to use ‘alternative medicine’ is…a decision to let yourself succumb to the disease. Whether you are aware of it or not. So I think the government is right to keep a child from, essentially, killing himself, even if the parents back him up.

  2. Pastor Curt Says:


    Does Big Brother always know best?

    In the specific case of Daniel Hauser,religious beliefs did not prevent the initial treatment, and so I suspect that they are not deeply held convictions, therefore I support government intervention. I am hesitant, however, to quietly sign over parental responsibilities to the state.

    I agree that there is no need to require that adults receive unwanted medical care.

    There are some success stories in alternative treatments. Therefore, in general, the decision to forego normally accepted medical treatments is not necessarily to give up, or to quietly succumb to the disease. Rather, it is to put your trust in something other than modern medicine. It may not be a good choice, but it is not the same as giving up.

  3. Mary Golnitz Says:

    I believe we do have choices about health care for our children as well as for ourselves. Almost 20 years ago, my 13 year old son was diagnosed with a rare muscle tissue cancer, rabdomyosarcoma. Statistics for survival were 50/50. The protocol was chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. After diagnosis, he was on the fast track without time for a second opinion, or alternative action. He was also told by the oncology nurse that he wouldn’t die from this. He helped make the decision for his treatment. Five months later he was termed and dropped by the main oncology team like a hot potato. Another oncologist walked the journey with us for another month until his death. The treatment was horrific. If I had the opportunity to make the decision for the protocol treatment, I am not sure I would make the same decision. The whole process has left scars that are difficult to heal. It is my faith in God, that I have peace and can live life. I have chosen to live life using alternative health options. I have often wondered if I had chosen alternative options for my son, what might have happened to me. This case has touched my heart and I understand the mother’s decisions. We need to study this issue more and allow for more healthy constructive conversation before we put undo pressure on families and children at such a difficult time in their lives.

  4. Pastor Curt Says:

    Mary, Thank you for sharing your story. I am sorry for your loss. There can be no worse pain than to suffer the loss of a child. Your story is another side of the issue. In the Hauser case, the survival rate is 90% with treatment, but that still means a 10% mortality rate. The parents have to live with the decision that they make for their child. I am thankful that you have found the peace that God can offer to us in troubling times.

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