Religion, Medical Treatment, and Vaccinations

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.

Photo courtesy of http://www.tektonics.org/gk/blood.jpg

Photo: http://www.tektonics.org/gk/blood.jpg

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.

Esther Kim

About Esther Kim

Esther Kim is a second year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She graduate from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a focus in Chinese Language and Literature. As an undergraduate, she worked one summer at the Citizens' Committee for Children, New York, a child advocacy organization, where she developed an interest in children's rights, community after-school resources, and immigration. Prior to law school, she worked as a paralegal at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, LLP in New York City. Esther is interested in adoptions and child neglect and abuse.

One thought on “Religion, Medical Treatment, and Vaccinations

  1. September 5, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    people should understand that the medicine more than a contradictory of the religion is a tool to help people

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