When parents prefer religious beliefs concerning healing over medical care for their children, concerns develop. In modern day society, health care is considered a basic human need and yet some parents choose to adopt religious beliefs to intervene in the health of their children. Due to the increasing over-reliance on Christian beliefs regarding prayer and health care for children, the topic has sparked a lot of interest to various scholars and health professionals. According to Webster (2015), Christians must be able to balance between their spiritual life and physical life.As it is, believing in God has several significant impacts on the life of individuals, but this faith should not blur them from rational decisions. In this context, ethics is doing the right thing and applying the Christian faith to help in making decisions. Mike and Joanne are Christians, who at first believed that the right way to handle the situation was by interceding for their son in prayers, which only made the situation worse. In return, they sought the intervention of a medical doctor who recommended a kidney transplant, and at the center of their religious belief, they must also make crucial decisions about their son’s health. In light of this, this brings in the ultimate dilemma about ethical issues alongside Christian principles and values, their impact on healing and autonomy, as well as the existing tensions between religious healing and health professional.
Christian Values and Ethical Issues
Within the Christian vision, the attitude towards life and death is attributed to faith in God. It is also directly correlated to the undisputable fact that death is beyond the human power. In addition to the above, the Christian narrative also comes high in prayers, faith, and healing, especially in the Gospel narratives. Unfortunately, and in the context of Mike and Joanne case, religion brings in some ethical issues based on whether believing in the power of prayers should overshadow proven scientific research. In order to understand the ethical issues surrounding the case, we first examine the different narratives in Christian faith. According to Ahlgrim (2016), there are various versions of the Christian faith, with each interpreting sickness, faith, scientific medicine, and healing in a different way. For some, they greatly emphasize the significance of medicine and its role in providing healing through God’s guidance. This means the denomination supports patients getting care for illnesses to prevent further injury or death and see doctors as working on behalf of God. By contrast, others such as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow their followers to undergo blood transfusions, and other critical treatments aimed at saving their lives (Jericho, 2015). In light of this and relevance to the case study, the ethical and moral issues are associated with the decision of the parents to forego treatment because of their religious beliefs alone, which placed the life of an innocent child in danger. The decision is unethical because it results in endangering the life of a child who relies on his parents for the right choices about his health and life. Another issue present in the case study is an ethical dilemma about taking one child’s kidney without their consent and giving it to the other. Samuel is not old enough to give his consent about his kidney being given to his twin brother, which carries with it significant moral and ethical issues. From a legal point of view, while some countries are categorical on organ donation, the issue of the guardian raises some ethical questions about the ability of the guardian or parent to consent on behalf of the child. Within the Christian narrative, some denominations such as the Catholic faith permits organ donation only if the means do not involve burdensome means such as very painful, expensive, risky, or even psychological burdensome. Samuel is a minor who cannot understand the medical implications that may arise with him donating his kidney. Yet, on the other hand, the psychological benefit to the donor outweighs the risk because he will be saving the life of his brother. In this case, by consenting have Samuel donate his kidney to James; it will be for the collective good of saving their child. On one side, it seems that the parents realize the ethical issues involved in making decisions for their child to donate an organ. From another view and considering the Christian narrative that allows organ donation if it is meant to save a life, the parents may end up committing a similar mistake as the first time they refused treatment for their son and cause his eventual death.
The Role of the Physicians in Irrational and Harmful Decisions
In the principle of anatomy, the proposition asserts that an adult of full capacity has the right to decide what is done to their body. The right is recognized within the law, medical practice, and ethics. For children, parents have a responsibility and authority to make autonomy decisions on behalf of their minors including the right to refuse or accept treatment options (Babcock, 2016). Unfortunately, while more value is placed on the right of the patient or parent in making critical decisions regarding their treatment, physicians increasingly face the dilemma of dealing with patient treatment options that appear irrational and harmful to their health. Society allows parents a huge responsibility in raising and caring for the children, but this does not extend to situations that are potentially risky to the children. In such cases, society has a right to intervene and override the parental authority. Health care professionals form a large part of the societal obligations to protect vulnerable children from medical negligent instigated by their parents. In the case of James’s parents, the parents have made irrational decisions that have been harmful to his life based on their religious beliefs. According to Orr, Novotny, & Perkin (2003), the physician has a responsibility to make the parents understand the clinical situation as clearly as they can and even recommend a second or third opinion. Ethically, it is permissible to persuade the parents of James with honest facts and opinions from a medical point of view. In addition, the physician must first understand the religious belief clearly, and if possible seek clarification from a religious leader or translator. The benefit of adopting this strategy is because parents may be misinterpreting the religious tenet while risking a life. In extreme cases where the parents are still adamant, and the life of the child is threatened, physicians have a legal mandate to report the situation to the proper authorities for the right course of course.
Analyzing the Case from a Christian Narrative
In some denominations, the religious beliefs are categorical about the importance of upholding the life of human beings and the role of modern medicine. Analyzing the case critically, Mike is in no way restricted by the Christian beliefs to seek medical intervention for his son; rather it is because of a healing miracle he witnessed. When faced with a moral dilemma where parents are torn between refusing treatment and seeking religious intervention, at least a level of understanding can be used to salvage the situation. The parents need to understand the clinical situation and possibly seek a second and third opinion about the health conditions and potential impacts if medical intervention is not initiated. In addition to the above and by analyzing the case study critically, it is easy to deduce that miracles do not happen. If they happened, James health would not have deteriorated in the first place when they took him to a Christian healing. Thus, the Christian vision should not be a reason to deny children scientific medical intervention.
The Christian Perspective on Sickness and Health
The issue of illness and health is a complicated matter to explore because the scripture gives several reasons about why diseases occur in the lives of individuals. It is therefore complicated to ascertain exactly how Christians ought to think about sickness and health. From the narrative, when Mike failed to seek medical intervention the first time, he believed that God was punishing him for lack of enough faith. The opinion of Mike that God is punishing can be supported by the Christian version that God allows suffering to punish those who are rebellious or to test their faith. Nevertheless, this fails to answer the ultimate question about seeking medical intervention for the restoration of health. According to the Christian narrative, the bible in Ezekiel 47: 12 is categorical about God talking of setting his throne on earth and growing all kinds of trees, and the fruits will be food and their leaves used for medicine. In this context, this comes down to show that if God did not approve of taking medication, then he would never have talked about it.
Mike’s Last Resolve as a Christian
From a purely medical perspective, the child’s best interests would be better served if the parents consent to have the organ transplant performed within one year. From a religious perspective, it is clear that Mike’s religious beliefs do not prohibit the intervention of medical doctors to ease suffering and restore health. As it is, Mike has already tried the power of prayer, and his son’s health deteriorated instead of getting better. As a Christian who believes in the power of prayers and healing, the best interests would be better served by allowing the doctor to do his work and seek divine intervention for the successful organ transplant and the wellness of his two sons.
Miraculous events in health restoration are exceedingly rare and unexplainable. However, it is not ethical to simply wave off people based on their faith in miracles. Medical doctors should also avoid using terms such as miracle drug or miraculous outcomes, which are likely to encourage people to seek divine intervention instead of scientifically proven medicine. Similarly, physicians have a responsibility to educate the masses on clinical facts and definite opinions and help them in making informed decisions regarding their health.
Ahlgrim, R. (2016). Sick religion or healthy faith?: Beliefs and practices for healing Christian communities. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
Babcock, R. (2016). Medical Decision-Making for Minors: Using Care Ethics to Empower Adolescents and Amend the Current Power Imbalances. Asian Bioethics Review, 8(1), pp. 4-19.
Jericho, B. G. (2015). Ethical issues in anesthesiology and surgery. Cham: Springer.
Orr, R. D., Novotny, W. E., & Perkin, R. M. (2003). Faith-based decisions: parents who refuse appropriate care for their children. The Virtual Mentor : Vm, 5(8), pp. 1-5.
Webster, R. (2015). Perfecting Perfection: Essays in Honor of Henry D. Rack. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
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