Religion, Medical Treatment, and Vaccinations

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There are some people who believe that vaccinations and other medical treatments could hurt, rather than help, their children.  They believe that modern medical procedures conflict with Biblical and other religious principles.  Among them are members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, the Faith Tabernacle, the Church of the First Born, the Faith Assembly, and the End Time Ministries. However, not all parents who refuse medical care for their children necessarily act on their religious beliefs.  Some believe that immunizations may be linked with autism, and refuse to vaccinate infants and children.  There are also cases that are unclear as to motivation.

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In Newark, Texas, at least 21 cases of measles have been discovered, affecting citizens ranging in age from 4 months to 44 years. The outbreak has been linked to Eagle Mountain International Church, a Texas megachurch, where many children have not been vaccinated.  All of the school-age children with measles were home-schooled.

It is unclear whether the families refused vaccinations due to religious or personal beliefs.  The church stated that the church has held several vaccination clinics since the outbreak and have never advised against immunization or seeking medical care, although the senior pastor added on top of her encouragement to the congregation to get their immunizations, “…If you’ve got [vaccinations] covered in your household by faith and it crosses your heart of faith then don’t go do it.”

The original article can be read here.

Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, a 10-year-old girl, diagnosed with a curable form of lymphoma, lymphoblastic lymphoma, was removed from the hospital by her Amish parents to avoid further chemotherapy.

The family’s motivation for refusing medical treatment is also ambiguous.  Her Amish parents claim their daughter is being harmed by the chemotherapy and are treating her with herbs and vitamins, instead. The girl also told the court that she feared the treatment was harming her internal organs and making her infertile.  The fact that the girl had chemotherapy from May until June before she was removed from treatment further weakens the religious argument.  If the girl’s parents had religious objections to their daughter’s cancer treatment, they would not have started it in the first place.

Law usually gives parents the discretion to do what is best for their children until their personal or religious beliefs endanger their children’s lives.  In most states, the law allows health and government officials to get court approval to provide medical care to save a child’s life over the parents’ religious objections.  In this case, the court ordered an injunction, ordering treatments to resume immediately.  The family visited the hospital once.

The original article can be read here.

These articles raise important and difficult questions about the role of media, religion, and the political and legal limitations regarding parents who withhold medical care from their children.  Many of these people strongly believe that accepting certain medical treatment will cause permanent damage or worse, endanger their chances of spiritual salvation.  But at what cost? But to those who have these personal or religious beliefs, it may be worth the risk of death.    

Is it worth the risk of contracting a serious illness, just to avoid an infinitesimally low (or non-existent) chance of vaccine-caused autism?  Is spiritual salvation more important than physical well-being or the chance of saving a life?  Is the legal system violating one’s rights when it takes away a parent’s (or a patient’s) right to decide what medical treatment to accept or not accept?  If a child has a 90% chance of survival if only she is allowed to have a blood transfusion, but a 0% chance of survival if she does not?

There doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer.

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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The Case of the Unwelcome T-shirts (14 t-shirts, that is), The Edjurist

As students head back to school this year school administrators are once again embroiled school dress code fiascos. From shorts that are way too short to pierced lips, today’s administrators are never far away from the latest fashion trend. It stands to reason that the most reasonable fashion choice for any student is the good ol’ t-shirt. Today’s public school students rely often rely on t-shirts as a staple of a modern, yet comfortable wardrobe choice.

case handed down this past spring by the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals could certainly be filed away in your First Amendment playbook as a typical dress code incident where reasonable school policies prevailed over an unreasonably dressed teenager, but a closer look at this case reveals just how time consuming even the simplest wardrobe infraction can become.

Candice Hardwick should indeed go down in the books as a student who was not only willing to challenge a school dress code policy, but one, who along with her parents, was relentless in doing so for four complete academic years. Hardwick, a middle school and high school student during the incidents that spawned the litigation, wore not one or two troublesome t-shirts, but ended up with a stockpile of at least fourteen controversial t-shirts. Most of the t-shirts bore the Confederate flag in some form and pursuant to past dress code judicial rulings favorable to school administrators in school districts where racial discord maintains a presence, these t-shirts were unacceptable for this public school setting. A portion of the shirts were protest shirts focused on the school administration. The dress code itself was standard fare for most schools and attempts by the parents to convince the school board to revise the dress code policy were unsuccessful.

Federal Judge Upholds School District’s Ban on ‘Boobies’ Bracelets, Education Week

A federal district judge in Indiana has ruled that school administrators may prohibit “I ♥ Boobies” breast-cancer awareness bracelets as lewd or vulgar student speech.

Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen of Hammond, Ind., considered and rejected the reasoning of the full federal appeals court in Philadelphia, which ruled earlier this month that the bracelets could not be barred because they comment on a social issue and are not “plainly lewd.”

“Clearly, the breast cancer awareness message does not eliminate the vulgar meaning behind ‘I ♥ Boobies’,” Van Bokkelen said in his Aug. 20 opinion in J.A. v. Fort Wayne Community Schools.

The Fort Wayne school district barred the bracelets, which are produced by the Keep A Breast Foundation of Carlsbad, Calif., after a male high school student in 2010 was wearing one when he harassed a female student by repeating the phrase “I love boobies” around her. District officials, which had also confiscated a bracelet that said, “Save the boobs,” concluded that such messages were offensive to women and inappropriate for school regardless of their breast cancer awareness theme.

The ban was challenged on First Amendment grounds by a female student identified as K.A., who is entering her senior year at North Side High School in Fort Wayne.

The bracelets have caused controversy in several schools around the country. In an Aug. 5 decision in B.H. v. Easton Area School District, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held that the bracelets could not be categorically barred as lewd under U.S. Supreme Court precedents on student speech.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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The Art of Interrupting Deadly Youth Violence, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

NEW YORK — “I want these gang members to know it ain’t the only way,” Rico, a 27-year-old standing in the doorway of a dusty bodega on Kingston Avenue in Brooklyn, said. A long-time member of the notorious Blood street gang, Rico said it had been months since he picked up a gun – a change in lifestyle he attributed largely to the positive influence of a handful of guys from the neighborhood.

Outside the Albany Homes housing projects a few blocks down, a 20-something-year-old who refused to give his name, had a similar story.

“I thought for this man the other day. I had a thing for him [wanted to hurt him], but I stopped myself,” he said.

It’s small victories like these the outreach workers of Save Our Streets (SOS) Crown Heights work toward everyday, dedicating their time to act as role models and mentors in an attempt to tamper the spread of gun violence within a 40-block area of central Brooklyn. A walk down the street can be a testament to the work done by Lavon Walker, David Bookhart, Achisimach “Chis” Yisrael and Derick Scot each afternoon as they comb the community, and a reminder of the high stakes at play.

Around the corner from Albany Homes, leaning against a lightpole, is a makeshift memorial for Drizzy, who barely a month before, at age 18, became the most recent local casualty of gun violence. A few empty bottles and scrawls of “RIP” on water-logged pieces of cardboard were all that some of his friends had to remember him by.

Like many urban neighborhoods, parts of Crown Heights suffer from the image, and sometimes the reality, of high violent crime rates. SOS, however, aims to change the image and the reality of life in the neighborhood with a unique approach. They treat gun violence like a disease.

It’s a method known as the CeaseFire model, sculpted after an evidence-based initiative in Chicago that had shown results over the past decade. The approach confronts the problem head-on, working to establish a culture that speaks out against violence through an emphasis on community interaction, conflict mediation and other tactics in a troubled neighborhood with high levels of violence.

OP-ED: The Adolescent Brain and Substance Abuse: Looking the Elephant In the Eye, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Having devoted my professional career to working in the justice systems, I have seen first-hand the dramatic impact drugs and alcohol have on offenders, victims and their families.

I spent 14 years in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and for three years I oversaw the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. Since 2003, I have been working on child abuse and juvenile justice issues at the national level.

There has been a constant theme in this work – drugs and alcohol do serious damage to children, families and communities and the use of them has a strong correlation to offending. I have also witnessed the power of prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery and the dramatic impact it can have on those same children, families and neighborhoods.

Yet, despite the prevalence, I have encountered a reluctance to address the issue of substance abuse and addiction. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including public perception (that it’s a rite of passage into adulthood) along with the stigma associated with addiction.

With all the reform efforts that have taken place over the last 15 years in the juvenile justice arena, coupled with what we now know about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the adolescent brain and the correlation with offending, it is surprising that an issue of such magnitude is still kept in the background.

Anyone working in the juvenile justice field is aware of the tremendous changes that have taken place in recent years. The “get tough” policies and practices of the 1990s have given way to a system largely guided by research and evidence based practices.  A report recently issued from the National Academy of Sciences, “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach,” consolidates and highlights these advances in a platform for moving forward.

A central theme is the importance of having the science surrounding adolescent development inform the policies and practices within the juvenile justice system. The authors emphasize that critical to any understanding of adolescent development research involves knowledge of the developing adolescent brain. The report highlights how this biological immaturity and imbalance among developing brain systems influence juvenile delinquency. The report also emphasizes key environmental factors such as peers, families, schools and communities and the importance of targeted interventions to prevent re-offending.