When discussing the Christian perspective on healthcare, it is important to discuss the issue of balance between physical and spiritual lives, which often intertwine and create barriers for one another. Therefore, Christians are presented with the task of not only being responsible for following and trusting the word of God but also taking care of their lives. The case study “Healing and Autonomy” discussed issues that relate to bioethics, which refers to the active and shared examination of ethical problems in health science, care, and policies. Mike and Joanne, the parents of identical twins James and Samuel, encountered a dilemma of whether to allow one of their sons to lose his kidney for the survival of another. They are deeply convinced that their faith could help avoid making such a difficult decision and heal their son without medical treatment. In this situation, ethics in the Christian narrative refers to deciding upon what is right and good through complying with the Bible (Mackenzie & Kirkland, 2010) despite the fact that the teachings go against common sense and rationality.
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Issues Presented in the Case Study
The most pressing issue that manifests in the case study is whether the healing by faith over proven medical methods and scientific research is ethical with regards to the eight-year-old boy in need of an organ transplant. Joanne and Mike were highly religious and chose to let God work a miracle and heal James, their son. Their case can be considered common; news media have reported numerous instances of parents refusing medical help for their children in the name of their religion. According to Wilson (2016) from The Guardian, parents of Mariah Walton, who was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, refused to seek medical attention for the sake of their religious beliefs. Another case was reported by Johnson (2009) from The New York Times; Kara Neumann’s parents believed that her juvenile diabetes could be healed through prayer, which resulted in the girl dying at age eleven from diabetic ketoacidosis.
It is highly likely that the fate of James will be similar to that of Kara due to his critical condition. Also, it is important to take into consideration that the actions of parents and the decisions they made have already led to detrimental effects on the boy’s health. Their decision is unethical since it will potentially lead to the endangerment of a child’s life, which depends on parents when it comes to decision-making (Hall, 2013). When exploring theological theories of wrongness and rightness, there is a common theme that either of the two relies on whether the outcomes are positive or negative. Because of such an interpretation of people’s actions, physicians should work with parents in such a way that will yield the best outcome for the health of James, even if his brother will also be involved. Despite the fact that there are some obvious tensions between what the physician deems right and what the boy’s parents regard as right, it is the duty of the healthcare provider to communicate all possible implications of either decision for Mike and Joanne to have all information to make the right decision.
Another pressing issue to discuss in this case relates to organ transplants. While the modern Christian ideologies do not oppose organ transplantation altogether, some believers still hold a view that humans were created by God and thus cannot act as creators themselves. Despite the controversy, the physician should insist that James receive a kidney transplant and that Samuel should become the donor for ensuring survival and recovery.
What Should the Physician Do?
The fact that Mike makes decisions that deteriorate his son’s health can be interpreted as a parent’s rejection of care for a child. Moreover, the case study concluded as if the father indeed decided not to proceed with organ transplantation because he did not want the other son to lose his kidney; he believed that James’ sickness was the test of his faith. It is crucial to mention that the physician, in this case, has a duty of care that goes against Mike’s beliefs.
According to the article “Patient advocacy: The role of the nurse” by Choi (2015), nurses and other healthcare providers are required to resolve all conflicts in favor of patients’ interests to preserve professional integrity. If to assess Mike’s actions from the viewpoint of professional ethics, they are considered negligent due to their adverse consequences. For this reason, the physician should do his or her best to prevent the father from putting his son in danger through wrong decision-making since the right to believe in God should not endanger anyone’s lives. Proper procedures and guidelines should be put in place in order to ensure safety and well-being for James.
Christian Narrative: Treatment Refusal, Patient Autonomy, and Organ Donation
Denial of medical treatment can be a valid decision when the uselessness of such is proven (Bingham, 2012). However, in the case of James, the refusal of treatment is invalid since the cost is much higher than the perceived benefits; also, the idea that the boy’s illness is a test of faith from God makes the situation even more complicated. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society (2004), all children (regardless of mental or physical abilities) have the right to protection, respect, and medical treatment that is in their best interests. Despite the fact that parents or caretakers make the ultimate decisions about treatment, it is essential that the child’s health and well-being is a priority.
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On the other hand, because patient autonomy is a guiding principle for clinical practice, it is not recommended that the physician pressure Mike into choosing transplantation over faith healing. The doctor can make a change by only presenting the father with all available scientific evidence to support the choice of proceeding with the operation; unfortunately, a healthcare provider cannot make a decision for the boy’s father.
Sickness and Health in Christianity
The history and the development of Christianity have been accompanied by the ongoing debate on how believers should perceive suffering, pain, illness, frailty, and death. Some view the theological notion of Jesus’ death on the cross as a “redemptive valuation of suffering” (Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, 2017, para. 1). Because of this, Christians may present an argument that suffering is of high value since it is transformative for those who go through it. The experience of suffering is believed to bring people closer to God who suffered and died for them. Numerous examples from Christian writings support the idea that sickness and suffering can bring value to people. Instances of this idea include: “suffering produced intimacy with God,” “suffering equips us to comfort others,” “suffering refines us,” “suffering produces growth and maturity,” and much more (as cited in Yerkes, n.d., para. 8).
Given the examples above, it is not surprising that Mike and Joanne perceive the illness of their son as a test of their faith – they believe that if their child suffers enough, God will get closer to them and alleviate the burden of the disease. Unfortunately, no proof has been found that faith healing could indeed improve the condition of patients diagnosed with severe health issues.
If to discuss what Mike should do when dealing with the dilemma, the entire case shows that there is no point for him and the physician to engage in conflict to decide who is wrong and who is right. Scientific evidence shows that James should be given a kidney transplant to survive; if Mike decides to go forth with faith healing, his son will eventually die due to the negligence of his father. If Mike decides to proceed with the operation, the chances are much higher than the boy will survive. In this scenario, combining faith and medical treatment is the best solution; no one should take away the faith of other people and no one should oppose medical treatment for the sake of religion. Because Mike believed that God could heal his son, he should also believe that God could give the physical strength to perform the operation and save a child’s life. In cases that concern death and life, religion should not take away from scientific methods and vice versa; the two should work in conjunction with one another to ensure both physical and spiritual healing.
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. (2017). Christianity on health and illness. Web.
Bingham, S. (2012). Refusal of treatment and decision-making capacity. Nursing Ethics, 19(1), 167-172.
Canadian Paediatric Society. (2004). Treatment decisions regarding infants, children, and adolescents. Paediatrics Child Health, 9(2), 99-103.
Choi, P. (2015). Patient advocacy: The role of the nurse. Nursing Standard, 29(41), 52-58.
Hall, H. (2013). Faith healing: Religious freedom vs. child protection. Web.
Johnson, D. (2009). Trials for parents who chose faith over medicine. The New York Times. Web.
Mackenzie, A., & Kirkland, W. (2010). Ethics at work overview. Web.
Wilson, J. (2016). Letting them die: Parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ. The Guardian. Web.
Yerkes, M. (n.d.). When we suffer: A Biblical perspective on chronic pain and illness. Web.