Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Faith Healing challenges in courts

MSNBC reports that courts are having trouble ruling in cases in which parents denied their sick children medical care in lieu of faith-based healing, particularly when the parents are members of smaller fringe denominations.

Existing laws have gradually accounted for more well-known and established faiths, such as Pentecostalism, Christian Science and Jehovah's Witnesses.But recent cases in the news have judges and child care advocates dealing with parents who claim adherence to lesser-known faiths...

The article reasonably asks how judges and courts are supposed to evaluate these claims: What's an organized religion? Who is an ordained minister? Who decides that praying for healing is insufficient compared to modern medical care? When does the child's rights to health trump the parent's religious freedom?

Many of the exemption laws were enacted in the 1970s. Rita Swan, director of the Sioux City, Iowa-based advocacy group Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, which lobbies states to repeal such laws, said that since 1975, there have been at least 274 known cases of U.S. children who have died after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.

Most religious people want the best of both worlds. When they or their children get sick, they insist on rigorous medical treatment while at the same time praying earnestly that God will perform a healing--granting God the credit if the medical ailment is alleviated, naturally. But when modern medicine fails to cure, or if the believer is distrustful of science-based medicine, then faith alone is called for.

Faith healing is a natural byproduct of a culture that places such a high value on faith in general. If a religious tradition or a holy scripture teaches that praying to heal an illness will work or has worked in the past, believers will be less likely to seek more effective means of treatment. What complicates the issue is when it's a parent's decision to forgo medical treatment on behalf of the child. Apparently at least 274 children have paid the ultimate price for this faith.

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