Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 265-276

First online:

Child Welfare Versus Parental Autonomy: Medical Ethics, The Law, and Faith-Based Healing

  • Kenneth HickeyAffiliated withChief Resident Department of Emergency Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth Medical Center
  • , Laurie LyckholmAffiliated withAssociate Professor of Internal Medicine Division of Hematology/Oncology, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

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Over the past three decades more than 200 children have died in the U.S. of treatable illnesses as a result of their parents relying on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment. Thirty-nine states have laws that protect parents from criminal prosecution when their children die as a result of not receiving medical care. As physicians and citizens, we must choose between protecting the welfare of children and maintaining respect for the rights of parents to practice the religion of their choice and to make important decisions for their children. In order to make and defend such choices, it is essential that we as health care professionals understand the history and background of such practices and the legal aspects of previous cases, as well as formulate an ethical construct by which to begin a dialogue with the religious communities and others who share similar beliefs about spiritual healing. In this paper, we provide a framework for these requirements.

Christian Science faith healing religion and ethics