Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

REFERENCES

  1. Adapted from Gayle Quigley v. First Church of Christ, Scientist et al., 65 Cal. App. 4th 1027; 1998 Cal. App. LEXIS 677; 76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 792; 98 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5928; 98 Daily Journal.

  2. Asser, S. M., and R. Swan. “Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect.” Pediatrics 101, no. 4 (1998): 625–629.

  3. Beauchamp, T. L., and J. F. Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

  4. DeGeorges, R. T. “Letter to the Editor responding to Christian Science's Right to Refuse.” The Hastings Center Report 25, no. 4 (1995): 2.

  5. Gorski, E. “A matter of Life and Faith,” The Gazette 25 (March 2001): http:// www. gazette. com/archive/01-03-25/daily/top2. html.

  6. Janofsky, M. “Colorado Children's Deaths Rekindle Debate on Religion: Should Parents be Allowed to Deny Care?” New York Times 21 (February 2001): sec. A, 10.

  7. Kipnis, K. “Letter to the Editor responding to Christian Science's Right to Refuse.” The Hastings Center Report 25, no. 4 (1995): 3.

  8. Kipnis, K. “Parental Refusals of Medical Treatment on Religious Grounds: Pediatric Ethics and the Children of Christian Scientists.” In Liberty, Equality and Plurality. Edited by L. May, C. Sistare, J. Schonsheck. 268–280. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1997.

  9. Lofholm, N. “Prayed-over Girl Died of Untreated Diabetes.” Denver Post 8 (February 2001): http://www. rickross. com/reference/general/general342. html.

  10. May, L. “Challenging Medical Authority: The Refusal of Treatment by Christian Scientists.” The Hastings Center Report 25, no. 1 (1995): 15–21.

  11. McGrory, B. “No Charge Planned in Unvaccinated Boy's Death.” Boston Globe 2 (April 1994): Metro/Region, 20.

  12. Merrick, J. C. “Christian Science Healing of Minor Children: Spiritual Exemption Statutes, First Amendment Rights, and Fair Notice.” Issues in Law & Medicine 10, no. 3: 321–342.

  13. Skolnick, A. A. “Christian Science Church Loses First Civil Suit in Wrongful Death of a Child.” The Journal of the American Medical Association 270, no. 15 (1993): 1781–1782.

  14. Swan, R. “Religious Exemptions From Health Care For Children: Federal Policy.” Children's Health Care Is A Legal Duty, Inc. (CHILD). http://www. childrenshealthcare.org/.

  15. Talbot, N. A. “The Position of the Christian Science Church.” The New England Journal of Medicine 309, no. 26 (1983): 1641–1642.

  16. Watchtower and Bible Tract Society. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Question of Blood. Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1977.

  17. Watchtower. Official Web Site of Jehovah's Witnesses. http://www. watchtower. org.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hickey, K., Lyckholm, L. Child Welfare Versus Parental Autonomy: Medical Ethics, The Law, and Faith-Based Healing. Theor Med Bioeth 25, 265–276 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11017-004-3137-7

Download citation

  • Christian Science
  • faith healing
  • religion and ethics