News & Events

Religion on the Run

Huh?  So I’m all set to post on this interesting story of Daniel, a 13 year old boy with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma whose parents are refusing to continue his chemotherapy treatments on religious grounds.  They, and their son, belong to a Native American tradition that eschews Western medicine, in favor of natural, herbal remedies.  In fact the mother says that she only agreed to the initial round of chemotherapy because she felt pressured into it.  Now that the family has discontinued the treatment, x-rays show that the cancerous mass which was previously responding to the chemo, is now growing larger again.  All of this drama has played out in a courtroom in Minnesota, and has struck a chord with many Americans for a multitude of reasons.

And now I find, in late breaking news – that the mother and son have disappeared!   Apparently they didn’t show up at a court hearing and now there’s a warrant out for the mother’s arrest!

There are many layers to this story.  Should parents be allowed to refuse medical treatment for a child based on their religious beliefs?  What if it’s potentially a life or death situation?  Many physicians will tell you that this issue often comes up with Jehovah’s Witness patients who refuse blood products.  While many physicians try to find ways to work around these requirements, the reality is that without a blood transfusion, in many instances the patient will die.

It’s particularly poignant when it’s a child.  Is Daniel too young, at age 13, to make his own medical decisions, when he is clearly influenced by the family beliefs?  In this particular case, the parents believe that the side effects of the chemotherapy were in essence, torturing their son and preferred to discontinue the treatment.  However, Daniel’s doctors believe that his cancer was responding positively to chemotherapy and in his case, without it, his chance of survival is slim.  It is not likely that herbal medicine alone will successfully shrink his tumor.

There also seems to be a lot of skepticism around this case because the parents’ religious beliefs are unfamiliar to many of us.  Who gets to decide whether religious beliefs are strong enough to risk death?  The family or the courts? 

While this case is somewhat extreme, it certainly serves as a reminder to the medical community that there will always be patients whose religious beliefs (or those of their family) impact their decision-making or treatment.  It’s just a question of the degree.

Here‘s one interesting perspective.