Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Retrospective

I cannot believe this class is over.  Being a math major, I was expecting this class to be incredibly painful, but it was hardly painful at all.  I actually enjoyed writing the first and fourth assignments—I wrote about the media coverage on the Russia-Chechnya and Russia-Georgia wars for the first assignment and religion in medicine and law for the fourth.  I had a hard time with the second assignment and writing about the issues of academic freedom particular to my field of study because math is perhaps the only subject where solutions are black and white/ right or wrong. 



The blog was probably the hardest assignment for me that we had to do for this class (ha!).  I always felt somewhat funny when I wrote an entry because I knew somebody would be reading it.  Although I do not think I will continue this blog, the process of blogging really made me more productive with my time.  I guess it’s because I knew I needed something juicy to write about each week so I was constantly researching.



I greatly appreciated all the group work we did during the class and the opportunities we had to discuss our research or writing issues during conferences.  I learned a lot about the researching process and how to narrow a search down to the sources that were actually going to help me.  The last paper was particularly interesting to research, especially since law, medicine and religion are really fascinating to me.  I liked being able to pick a topic that combined all three and dissect the issues that exist between them.





Possible Solution?

Our First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Those in favor of religious exemptions have argued that punishing a parent who denies their child medical treatment because their religion forbids it violates the parent's First Amendment right to religious freedom.  Does a parent's right to freedom of religious (and authority over their child) take precedence over the child's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?  

I believe the answer should be no and that the right to life should always take precedence over the right to religious freedom.  I think religious exemptions should be removed altogether when it involves children. Children who are unable to make decisions for themselves and who are under the age of eighteen should not be denied medical care because the religion of their parents forbids it.   Parents are suppose to protect and provide for their children and, if they are unable to do so, I also believe that the state governments should hold these parents accountable for their actions 

Parents should only be allowed to deny their child a specific medical treatment if there is an equally effective alternative, which they are willing to give to their child.  Physicians should always make the final decision and be able to override the parent's if they believe that the parent's decision is not in the best interest of the child.  

It doesn't seem there will ever be a solution that pleases all three fields--medicine, religion and law.  But I think the best solution here is to protect children in every way that we can.


Monday, July 27, 2009


Today I read an article about a woman in Texas, Otty Sanchez, who killed her 3 and half-week old baby.  She dismembered his body and supposedly ate his brain.  She claimed that the “devil made her do it.”  This article made me realize that this has a few similarities to the topic I am discussing.  Is it fair to say that parents who don’t take their children to the hospital due to their religious beliefs are perhaps murdering their children?

This article referred to a couple similar cases.  One was that of Dena Schlosser.  Schlosser killed her 10-month old baby by slicing off her arms saying that she killed the baby because “she wanted to give her to God.”  Schlosser was deemed mentally insane and found not guilty.

Another case mentioned in this article I remember hearing about on TV and reading about in the papers.  It was the case of Andrea Yates who drowned her five children in a bathtub at her home in Houston, Texas.  She said, “Satan was inside her” and she was “trying to save them from hell.”  Yates, like Schlosser, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

 I can see where religious exemption laws play an important role.  Although I do not believe that a parent should be allowed to withhold life saving medical treatment, like a blood transfusion, from a child, I can see why courts found Schlosser and Yates not guilty of homicide due to a “religious belief.”  But it’s not because the courts condoned their actions because of a religious influence, but rather because they believed the two were psychologically disturbed so they were treated/punished accordingly.  The courts ordered both Schlosser and Yates to a high security mental institution where they will probably spend the rest of their lives.

Should these same rules apply for parents like Dennis and Lorie Nixon (see post below)? Two of the Nixon’s children died because they didn’t take them to the hospital because “God didn’t want them to.” To me this sounds the same as the “devil made her do it.” 



Friday, July 24, 2009

Religious Exemptions

In the early 1970s, the Christian Science church, Jehovah’s witnesses and other religious organizations pressured the federal government to have some sort of religious exemption policy.  Finally, in 1974 the federal government passed a policy that required all states to include religious exemptions in their civil and criminal codes in order to receive federal funding for child protection services.  The policy was rescinded in 1983, but the policies passed by the state governments during this time are still intact today.  Some of the policies include:

48 states have religious exemptions from immunizations.  

 Oregon and Pennsylvania have religious exemptions from bicycle helmets.

California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio have statutes excusing students with religious objections from studying about disease in school.

California allows public school teachers to refuse testing for tuberculosis on religious grounds.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have religious exemptions in their civil codes on child abuse or neglect, largely because of a federal government policy from 1974 to 1983 requiring states

Eighteen states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children

Twelve states have religious defenses to misdemeanors

Some of these policies seem so absurd to me.  One that I was particularly alarmed by was that public school teachers in California can refuse testing for tuberculosis.  What if these teachers have tuberculosis?  If they do, they are endangering the health of all the children they come in contact with!  Especially in a public school system, it seems that the state government should require all teachers to be free of tuberculosis before they are exposed to students. This is incredibly scary to think about.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

In an episode of the Simpsons, a Brazilian nun, distraught over a missing orphan, says to Bart:

Nun: Everyday we light a candle for him.

Bart: Have you tried looking for him?

Nun: That’s plan B.

Watch this episode. -->see 10:20 mark.The conversation Bart Simpson has with the nun is a funny one when cartoon characters have it on TV, but not so funny if you are the missing orphan.  Although not entirely related to the topic I am going to focus on, I thought this conversation showed how religion affects the decisions adults make in regards to children and how it sometimes seems irresponsible.  

So far in my research I have found several legal cases regarding parents accused of child neglect because they did not seek medical treatment for their sick children.  All the children eventually died and their parents argued that medical care was prohibited by their religion.  Should legal authorities have stepped in?  Where do we draw the line?  Do these parents deserve to go to jail?  These questions are difficult to answer for a reason.  They touch on a sensitive subject and address questions that nobody really knows the answer to. 

In a study of 172 children who died from lack of conventional medicine (because their parents did not take them to the doctor), the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 140 of the children (roughly 81%) would have had a 90% chance of survival if they had been taken to the doctor and 18 of them would have had a 50% chance of survival.  158 of these kids could have been saved!!  I couldn’t believe this when I first read it.  My first thought was that these children were suffering from terrible diseases that were eventually going to kill them, but they weren’t.  Many of them suffered from pneumonia or type 1-diabetes, conditions that are easily treated with conventional medication.  What should have been done?


Wednesday, July 1, 2009


James 5:14-15 reads "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well."

 The book of James is one of several books in the bible that conveys this message—that prayer will heal somebody who is sick.  But is prayer alone enough to heal somebody who has the flu or pneumonia?  What if he or she was dying of cancer or AIDS?  Most of us (I think) would say, no.  If prayer cured disease, we would have no need for doctors or medicine, but we do and even that isn’t always enough. 

Even though there is a lot more to learn about viruses, bacteria, and our DNA, modern medicine has cured millions of people from illnesses, like the flu and pneumonia, that were more or less considered terminal a hundred years ago.  It always baffles me when I read newspaper articles or see stories on TV about sick people, who deny themselves or their children medications or treatments that could potentially save their life because of their religious beliefs (See the story of Dennis and Lorie Nixon). 

39 out of the 50 states have laws protecting parents like Dennis and Lorie Nixon from child neglect allegations if they do so because of religious belief.  I am not a religious person so it is difficult for me to understand these two issues:

1.    Why would any good and loving parent allow their child to die instead of allowing a doctor to treat them, even if it means “breaking” a religious law?

2.     Why would some states protect parents who do this?  Shouldn’t they be more concerned about protecting the rights of the children?  (This question also addresses whether parents should or should not have legal control over a child’s medical treatment.)  

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

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