Proponents of faith healing may believe that God is more powerful than modern medicine, or fear interfering with God's will, or their religious doctrines may prohibit them from undergoing certain procedures. Sometimes the choice costs them their lives.
Most agree that adults have the right to make that call. The issue becomes more complicated when the patients are children. At what point does a secular society's desire to protect a child from harm in this life outweigh a parent's desire to protect a child in the afterlife?
One of the primary founding principles of the United States is the concept of freedom of religion. Traditionally, that concept was given a pretty wide berth. Recently, however, those freedoms have been encroached upon and we have been struggling to find a balance. Thirty-eight states now have religious exemptions in their child abuse and child neglect statutes. These statutes have protected parents from prosecution when they withhold medical treatment in lieu of faith healing. But now these laws are facing scrutiny as a result of the media attention focused on recent deaths and the resulting public outcry.
Should children have to die for the beliefs of their parents? Advocates for the children consider it abusive or even murderous to withhold medical treatment from a child. They believe that our government has an obligation to protect the rights of the children who are not able to decide for themselves. They believe that a child should not be at the mercy of their parents. They would argue that we protect the children in every other instance of abuse and therefore cannot shun our duty to protect because of a religious objection.
Should parents be forced to disregard the commands of their God simply because the rest of society doesn't understand? Believers in faith healing would argue that the laws of their God are higher then the laws of their State. They do not believe they are harming their children, even when the result is death, because they are ensuring their child a spot in heaven. They fear endangering the child's soul more than they fear harming the child's earthly body.
How can we find a way to balance the right to freedom of religion with the responsibility to protect the rights of minors? It will be a challenge to strike this balance and the answer will have far reaching consequences. We don't envy the judge who has to decide.