Under the Christian narrative and Christian vision, what sorts of issues are most pressing in this case study?
The case study at hand contains several controversial issues that can be called pressing if regarded in the context of the Christian narrative and Christian vision. However, generalization is not applicable here since it is important to remember that there exist different versions of Christianity, each suggesting its interpretation of such-like situations (Protestants would react differently from Baptists, Catholics may not agree with the Orthodox, etc.). Thus, some of these denominations may reject any kind of medical interventions (since the human body is believed to be sacred and only God can decide whether a person should live or die), whereas others state that it is God who invented medicine, which means that doctors only follow his divine guidance.
In this particular case, we do not know what confession Mike belongs to. Therefore, one of the most pressing issues to resolve is whether it contradicts God’s will to accept medical care for a serious disease to prevent the boy’s death, which is otherwise inevitable. Besides, organ transplantation is one of the most disputable ethical issues, not only in religion. In this aspect, a question arises, whether it is lawful to forego an operation based on religious beliefs only and sentence the child to death. Another problem that could not be ignored is the other twin who will have to donate his kidney to his brother. This implies that parents, following their religion, sacrificed both children to it since the other son will also remain disabled.
Thus, ethical concerns that arise from this particular case of faith healing can be summed up as follows (Humber, 2013):
- abuse of children’s rights granted by constitutional laws based on faith;
- rejection of medical treatment that will inevitably cause irreparable harm to health;
- involving the other person who is not old enough to give his consent for organ donation;
- belief in divine predestination that leaves no options to those who could otherwise be saved by regular treatment;
- social respect to parent’s values that already extend beyond the limits where they start posing threat to other people’s well-being;
- absence of legal prosecution of the boy’s parents whose children suffered from their religious practices but cannot defend themselves.
Should the physician allow Mike to continue making decisions that seem to him to be irrational and harmful to James?
To understand whether the physician should allow Mike to continue performing his practices even if he is sure that they are harmful to James’ health, it is necessary to find out what pros and cons faith healing has.
Faith healing would be rather innocent and even spiritually supportive under the condition that it was complimentary to regular medical interventions. However, now there exist numerous sects that reject any kind of treatment regardless of the consequences. On the one hand, it is ethical and competent to respect Mike’s right to choosing treatment for his children. Yet, on the other hand, it is important to know the limits of this freedom as even religious child abuse can hardly be called ethical regardless of the good intention that lies based on it (Bakken, 2015).
Another problem is that even if the doctor allows James’s parents to continue their practices and they will bring about deplorable consequences, such autonomy of decisions is protected from criminal prosecution by 39 states (Bakken, 2015).
Thus, the pros and cons of allowing faith healing are the following (Hess, 2013):
- the placebo effect since James’s parents are likely to convince their children that God will help them even if medical specialists fail;
- promotion of stress relief and peace of mind if the child truly believes that God will save him;
- relief of physical pain.
- the strong perspective of a negative outcome;
- no real impact on the child’s condition;
- absence of timely medical care.
Although it is obvious that faith healing relies more on people’s delusion, there are still some positive impacts that cannot be ignored. First and foremost, peace of mind can be achieved through the placebo effect (both in parents and in children). Furthermore, physical sufferings are relieved when a person sincerely believes in a positive outcome due to God’s mercy. Yet, these effects are outnumbered by dangerous consequences. According to the statistics, more than 200 children have died since 2000 in the United States because of the religious practices of their parents (Hess, 2013).
It means that it would be more reasonable for the physician to forbid Mike to continue making decisions that are determined exclusively by his fate. Yet, if he does it, he must be prepared for legal prosecution if the outcome is still negative. James’s parents can start proceedings claiming that the physician prevented them from saving their son using their religion and imposed treatment that did not give any results. It is highly possible that, if they have an experienced lawyer, they will win the case and the doctor will have to bear the burden of the blame.
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 take it for granted that in the context of the Christian narrative, treatment refusal (as a part of patient autonomy) is normal, it would mean that the patient’s fundamental right to determine his/her treatment is automatically violated when the patient is not mature enough to act independently. While for mature individuals, informative consent is a legal issue that determines the outcome of the majority of decisions, for a child, it is only an imperative to enhance self-determination and produce an illusion of a real change. Even if the child realizes that his/her parents’ decisions lead to death, he/she cannot sign a document to make all decisions independently from parents.
Yet, from the Christian point of view, human life is sacred and the conflict between the patient’s autonomy and its sanctity is rather hard to approach as it is based on the same controversy as, for example, euthanasia. If the child is easily subjected to his parents’ influence, he can likely support his father’s decision and choose a course of action that will shorten his life. Thus, the case can be analyzed from the patient’s adequacy and ability to make reasonable decisions. Another perspective is to address the case from the other twin.
On the one hand, this patient can enjoy the respective autonomy of decisions and can refuse to donate his kidney to his brother. Yet, this opportunity does not seem real since it would imply the total cessation of treatment procedures for his brother in case the operation fails. This creates immense psychological pressure upon the child who is not likely to understand what is required from him. This decision is far from being independent even he makes it without any intervention. This raises another question concerning the extent to which the influence of upbringing may spread so that it does not tell on the way of thinking and the quality of life.
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?
To understand how Christians must perceive sickness and health in general and how Mike should behave in particular, we must address the Bible. The problem with the Holy Scripture is that it never tells us that Jesus ever suffered from any kind of disease, even a minor one even though we know for sure that human weaknesses were not alien to him. He had a human body that was exactly like ours except that it was not marred by sin. He suffers physical pain from tortures before the execution and is not indifferent to it. Yet, at the same time, he did not have any illness, which means that they can be perceived as a punishment for our sins (Hess, 2013).
That is exactly the way Mike sees the situation: He is likely to believe that the sickness of his son happened because he was not a true believer and his prayer was not a sincere one. That is why he thinks that in a critical situation that is about life and death, it is time to show his faith at its utmost. Only if God understands that he believes in him without hidden doubts, he may save James. Moreover, Mike may also think about the patience of Job and about all sufferings that he had to undergo before God blessed him again. James’s disease may be understood as God’s trial by his parents. In this case, it is very unlikely that they will agree to resort to traditional methods.
Bakken, K. L. (2015). The journey into God: Healing and Christian faith. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Hess, D. (2013). Faith healing and the palliative care team. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 9(2-3), 180-190.
Humber, J. M. (2013). Biomedical ethics and the law. Berlin, Germany: Springer Science & Business Media.