“Bioethics” journal attacks religious parents for making end-of-life decisions about their children

Wesley J. Smith writes about an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, which attacks the rights of parents to make end-of-life decisions for their own children based upon their religious beliefs.  As Smith points out, the title of the article displays the bias of the authors and the journal itself: “Should Religious Beliefs be Allowed to Stonewall a Secular Approach to Withdrawing and Withholding Treatment in Children?”  According to this article, fundamentalist Christian parents are refusing to remove life support from hopelessly ill children, and thereby causing them to suffer unnecessarily.  

As Smith notes, the news media quickly repeated the distortions.  CBS News, International Business Times,  and Newsday all reported on this new “study.”  Newsday’s report was particularly vile:

Despite overwhelming medical evidence supporting the withdrawal of intensive care in extremely ill children who are unlikely to survive, parents who have deeply held religious beliefs may hold out for a miracle, a small study has found.

As Smith points out, there was no “study,” only an unscientific review of a small number of cases.  Because no clinical details were provided, we cannot know if there was “overwhelming medical evidence.”  As Smith writes,

We are only told that the children had been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit presenting with “serious and burdensome” medical conditions that resulted in disputes between parents and doctors over protracted intensive care.


…And get this: The headlines about heartless religious parents forcing helpless children to suffer in the name of their faith involved a mere six cases that took place over a three-year period.

Looking at the statistics reported by the article, 203 cases were reviewed, and only 17 involved disagreement.  Of these 17, only six cases involved Christian parents making decisions to maintain life support.  As Smith writes, 

In other words, the entire fuss concerns a whopping 3% of all the cases reviewed. And yet, from this bare handful of painful situations, the authors weave a policy argument aimed at undermining the rights of religious parents — and only religious parents — to make end-of-life decisions about their children when they disagree with “secular” doctors.

The bioethicists argue that the child’s religion should not be that of the parents, taking the position of Richard Dawkins.  A child should not be automatically considered of the parents’ religion until the child is old enough to consent.  Based upon this reasoning, the bioethicists argue that the parents’ religion should not be a factor in the end-of-life decision.  Departing from any logic, the ethicists argue that the secular beliefs of the doctor–a stranger–should prevail.  What about the consent of the child to this belief system? 

The bioethicists propose an accelerated process to bring these cases–and only cases involving religious parents dissenting from doctor recommendations to end life–to judges.  

As a noted philosopher once told me, always ask “cui bono?”  “Who benefits?”  Or, “follow the money.”  From the bioethics journal:

One further argument for such an approach and one we do not shy away from is the resources used in maintaining children in this setting. While we feel the best interests of the child in question are paramount, the interests of society — including other children who might have used this valuable resource — cannot be ignored, especially when non-medically indicated painful and futile therapies are continued on children due to an expectation of a miraculous intervention.

Recall that they ask this sweeping question based on 3% of cases in a non-scientific review of a very small sampling.  They are making the generalization, without basis in fact, that painful and futile therapies are continued by religious parents due to expectations of miraculous recoveries.  They are recommending that religious parents (and only religious parents) be prevented from making end-of-life decisions for their sick children, based on their generalizations (free of data) that these parents are superstitious, stupid, and acting contrary to the good of society.

This is happening now in Britain.  Coming soon to the United States! 

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