Under the Christian narrative and Christian vision, what sorts of issues are most pressing in this case study?
The given case study describes rather a controversial situation, in which Christian vision comes into conflict with common sense, ethics, and medical science. The most pressing issue here is the fact that human life is at stake. Furthermore, it depends upon the decisions of people who are persistent in their unwillingness to view the situation from another perspective since their religion does not allow them to do so.
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It can be deduced from the case that the family of James (the boy, who is about to die since his parents forego an operation because of their religious views) belongs to a denomination condemning any manipulations with the human body if they do not come from God. This is an extreme case since not all versions of Christianity would interpret the situation in the same way (followers of some confessions believe that medicine also exists due to God’s will, which means that medical interventions should not be perceived as contradictory to His guidance) (Bakken, 2015). Since we do not know the details about Mike and their wife’s religion, it can only be supposed that the most acute problem for them is to decide whether it would be a sin to accept medical assistance when their son is about to die without it.
Judging by Mike’s actions, it is evident that he would prefer to reject any intervention and rely entirely on the power of his faith and prayer. As the condition of the boy aggravated, his father began doubting if his faith was strong enough to cure him. Since he will probably persist in his decision, another issue of concern is who will be responsible for the child’s death, both from the legal and religious points of view.
There is also the second child, whose presence, in this case, cannot be ignored either. The point is that he has to donate his kidney to the dying brother–this is another intervention going against Christian morality. At the same time, the boy is a victim of his own parents’ stubbornness and blind faith and should be protected by God from their follies from the Christian point of view (leaving alone protection of his human rights).
Should the physician allow Mike to continue making decisions that seem to him to be irrational and harmful to James?
It is indeed hard to say whether the physician should leave Mike his paternal right to decide what is best for his son even if it is already quite evident that his decisions will end up in the boy’s death. The biggest problem is not even whether the doctor should make this decision from the professional and ethical point of view but whether he actually can prohibit this or that religious practice to the parents even knowing their consequences and outcomes for the patient.
Currently, the prevailing majority of states protect parents’ autonomy of decisions, which implies that if James dies, they are not likely to be prosecuted for homicide. Furthermore, if the physician still insists on an operation (which is dangerous for both twins) and one of the children dies (or even both of them), it is also possible that their parents may start legal proceedings accusing the doctor of unintended murder as it was him who insists on the rejection of religious practices in favor of medicine. Thus, it may be fraught with consequences for him to insist on an operation (Humber, 2013).
The most reasonable option, in this case, is to invite a lawyer to a personal meeting with parents and to make the boy’s parents sign a paper confirming that they forego the operation having been informed about all possible consequences of their refusal. In this case, the physician will feel secure knowing that he did everything for saving James’s life (Humber, 2013).
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On the other hand, the best outcome (yet, hardly possible one) would be to convince the parents to continue their faith healing practices in combination with the traditional methods of treatment. In this case, faith healing is not harmful and can even provide certain spiritual support to the whole family. The placebo effect is created, which can help James cope with stress (since he is sure to be no less religious than his father).
It has been proven by extensive research that practices of faith healing (when they are complementary to the traditional treatment) are able not only to give the patient peace of mind to get prepared emotionally for an operation but also relieve physical pain (Bakken, 2015). Thus, allowing Mike to continue his practices would benefit the boy in case the physician manages to persuade him into the continuation of medical treatment. This will certainly not be harmful or irrational.
According to the Christian narrative and the discussion of the issues of treatment refusal, patient autonomy, and organ donation in the topic readings, how might one analyze this case?
If we attempt to analyze the case simultaneously from the position of the Christian narrative and the modern issues of patient autonomy, organ donation, and treatment refusal, the results will be rather perplexing since plenty of controversies and ethical dilemmas immediately arise. On the one hand, Christians perceive human life as sacred, which implies that it must be saved using all means. Moreover, in the given case, we are speaking about the life of a child, and children are considered to be innocent, beloved God’s creatures (Ferngren, 2014). However, on the other hand, organ donation is regarded as interference into the creation process since only God can shape a human body. Thus, this step corresponds to and contradicts Christian morality simultaneously (Bakken, 2015).
As far as treatment refusal is concerned, it is violated from both perspectives. Christians would say that patient autonomy is normal since no one except God can decide if a person will live or die. From the medical point of view, neither James nor his brother can sign an informed consent or refusal as their parents are legally responsible for them. From the religious prism, it means that they assume the role of God in deciding other people’s destiny. From the point of law, these children cannot act independently from their parents and will have to obey any decision they will make, which, violates their human rights. Moreover, even if the child says that he agrees to rely on God’s mercy instead of being operated on, it may indicate that his father’s influence in the family is overwhelming.
The same dilemmas can be applied to the other brother, who may become an invalid if he is made to donate a kidney to James. On the one hand, this act would be truly Christian as he will sacrifice his well-being for the sake of another person. On the other hand, this involves psychological and physical violence as the child is certainly subject to constant pressure about his role in the situation. Therefore, his decision is hardly voluntary and fully adequate.
According to the topic readings and lecture, how ought the Christian think about sickness and health? What should Mike as a Christian do? How should he reason about trusting God and treating James?
According to the Holy Scripture, all sicknesses should be perceived as punishments for our sins. If we address the Old Testament, we can find numerous examples of people affected by intolerable pains and diseases when they indulge in lust, gluttony, arrogance, idleness, or any other of the deadly sins. This understanding of illnesses is supported by the fact that Jesus Christ never suffered from any health problems whatsoever even though his flesh is unquestionably human.
He feels pain when they torture him before the crucifixion, he is weak and exhausted. Yet, no disease ever affects him, which again proves that he does not have to pay for any sins. However, there is another way to understand sicknesses. In some cases, God used diseases to test his most faithful followers who did not have any sins (e.g. Job’s patience was tested in such a way). In the New Testament, martyrs repeated their fate (Ferngren, 2014).
Thus, Mike’s perception of the situation seems to be determined by both interpretations. He may think that God punishes him for the lack of faith and this punishment is severe but just. At the same time, it is also possible that he may see his misery as a challenge to his faith, which he must overcome to prove that he is a true Christian. In any case, it is much more probable that he will rely on prayers to save his son and demonstrate his devotion to God rather than that he will use his common sense and agree to an operation.
Bakken, K. L. (2015). The journey into God: Healing and Christian faith. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Ferngren, G. B. (2014). Medicine and religion: A historical introduction. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.
Humber, J. M. (2013). Biomedical ethics and the law. Berlin, Germany: Springer Science & Business Media.