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.

Mental Disorders in Children

According to a recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 5 children suffer from some sort of mental disorder, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  While discussions regarding mental disorders in adults have been a topic of conversation as of late, mental disabilities in children, differing by presentation, diagnosis, and treatment, often don’t get as much attention.  It is because of these variations in symptoms that may be normal at differing points in a child’s development stages, such as outbursts of aggression, difficulty in paying attention, or fearfulness that mental disorders in children tend to go unrecognized and undiagnosed.  Unfortunately, because disorders in children can be so hard to identify, many children who could benefit from treatment often do not receive it.

Not only do mental disorders in children affect the child themselves, but their family and community as well.  Among children ages 3-17, the cost of medical bills for such treatment is up to $247 billion per year, with the money going towards things like medical, special education, and juvenile justice expenses.  According to the study, the most prevalent disorder among our nation’s children is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), affecting approximately 6.8% of America’s youth population. Behavioral or conduct problems impacts about 3.5% of children, followed by anxiety (3%), depression (2.1%), autism spectrum disorders (1.1%), and tourette syndrome (.2%).  Furthermore, the study found that ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, tourette syndrome, and cigarette dependence are more prevalent in boys than girls, while depression and alcohol use disorder tend to be displayed more often in female children.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was diagnosed with ADD, a disorder similar to ADHD.  Children with ADD typically have problems with paying attention or concentrating, following directions, and thinking before they act (impulsivity).  They can also become easily bored or frustrated with what would otherwise be basic tasks.  Symptoms of ADD in children usually fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.  Prior to getting diagnosed with ADD and subsequently being prescribed mediation, I remember being easily distracted, inattentive, and very disorganized. Luckily I had a good head on my shoulders and was able to get my school work done, but not only did tasks take me longer to complete than my fellow students, but also, at times, I would make careless errors due to my inability to concentrate, which only escalated the level of frustration I was already experiencing. Furthermore, because the impulsivity aspect of ADD was a symptom that heavily affected me, I had difficulty waiting for my turn to speak, often blurting out answers or interrupting others, which in turn, caused teachers to believe I was being purposefully defiant.  My undiagnosed ADD not only affected myself, but it affected my parents as well.  My constant frustrations and impulsivities caused me to become moody and irritable with my parents usually being on the receiving end those undesirable emotions.

Being the youngest of numerous siblings and having had other relatives diagnosed with ADD, my parents were familiar with the warning signs and symptoms so they had me tested in 4th grade.  While I remember not wanting to go to the nurse’s office to take my medication because I didn’t want to feel different than the rest of the students, I remember hating the constant waves of frustration that resulted from my inability to focus way more.  Luckily, I was diagnosed at a relatively early age and was able to get the treatment I needed in order to succeed.  Unfortunately, many children, not only with ADD or ADHD but also with other mental difficulties as well, are not tested and therefore struggle to succeed, as they are undiagnosed and untreated.

While, according to the CDC study, the number of children being diagnosed with mental disorders is steadily increasing, suggesting that perhaps people are becoming more aware of the identifying symptoms, it is exceptionally important for both parents as well as health care professionals to strive for early diagnosis and subsequently determine the appropriate treatment in order to not only help the child, but also to better comprehend the influence of mental disorders, communicate the needs for treatment and intervention strategies, and advocate for the mental health of children as a whole.