The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Judging Science & Faith

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 16, 2009

So here’s a tough question for you… in a nation where we respect religious liberty, how does the state handle situations where those religious beliefs are in direct conflict with established medical science?  I’m specifically referring to a situation in Minnesota where a judge has ordered that a boy receive chemotherapy for his cancer despite the parents’ religious objections.

Judge rules family can’t refuse chemo for boy

A Minnesota judge ruled Friday that a 13-year-old cancer patient must be evaluated by a doctor to determine if the boy would benefit from restarting chemotherapy over his parents’ objections.

In a 58-page ruling, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser has been “medically neglected” by his parents, Colleen and Anthony Hauser, and was in need of child protection services.

While he allowed Daniel to stay with his parents, the judge gave the Hausers until Tuesday to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.

If the evaluation shows the cancer had advanced to a point where chemotherapy and radiation would no longer help, the judge said, he would not order the boy to undergo treatment.

However, he said, if chemotherapy is ordered and the family still refuses, Daniel will be placed in temporary custody.

I posted about something similar in my entry titled “What’s the Limit on ‘Respecting Beliefs’?” but this is a far more serious situation – in fact, it is one of life & death.

Here we have a situation where the parents are refusing to have their son treated with modern medicine because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.  Specifically…

Daniel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and stopped chemotherapy in February after a single treatment. He and his parents opted instead for alternative medicines based on their religious beliefs.

Child protection workers accused Daniel’s parents of medical neglect; but in court, his mother insisted the boy wouldn’t submit to chemotherapy for religious reasons and she said she wouldn’t comply if the court orders it.

Doctors have said Daniel’s cancer had up to a 90 percent chance of being cured with chemotherapy and radiation. Without those treatments, doctors said his chances of survival are 5 percent.

Daniel’s parents have been supporting what they say is their son’s decision to treat the disease with nutritional supplements and other alternative treatments favored by the Nemenhah Band.

The Missouri-based religious group believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.

So there you have it.  This kid has been indoctrinated into believing his parents’ woo that modern medicine should be avoided in favor of this quackery.  And these parents refuse to voluntarily give him science-based treatment which is shown to be effective!

Now most people reading this article will think the parents are just plain nuts – I certainly think so.  Sadly, this sort of disconnected-from-reality behavior is not uncommon among some more exotic religious groups, such as the Christian Scientists.

If the parents were making the decision for themselves, that’s one thing, but by putting their child in harm’s way I think they’re crossing a line.  And I think the judge is making the right decision in this case.

Now some people are, perhaps justifiably, concerned about governmental over-reach into the private lives of citizens with this sort of ruling.  However, I have to say that when medical science has established the facts of the situation, then for people to refuse treatment for those who cannot make decisions on their own is criminal.

I just can’t wait for the sCAM woo-meisters to make hay out of this ruling.  Already there are cries of “religious discrimination” and “judicial activism” being thrown around by the woo-crowd.  And there’s a good reason for that…

One of the tactics that I’ve seen pseudoscientists of every stripe employing over the last few years is to try draping their nonsense in the garb of religion.  They think that, at least in the United States, by doing this they’ll be able to avoid a certain degree of scrutiny & criticism.  One organization which has employed this technique with some success is the Church of Scientology, and there are plenty of others doing the same thing (from psychic Sylvia Browne’s “church” Novus Spiritus to various creationist groups).  The irony here is the “have your cake and eat it too” mentality – these whackjobs want to challenge science, but when science challenges them they attempt to hide behind their religious viel and cry foul.

In addition to the religious angle, I fully expect some of the woosters to even tie this ruling into the oft-repeated conspiracy theory of Big Pharma & Big Government being in cahoots to conceal the “truth” of natural healing techniques and so on.  It’ll be interesting to see how the situation develops, but – at least for the time being – it seems science & reason have won this round.

3 Responses to “Judging Science & Faith”

  1. […] Here is the original post: Judging Science & Faith […]

  2. […] More here:  Judging Science & Faith […]

  3. marie said


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