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Medical and Christian Ethics: Ill Child and Parents

Biomedical ethics cases allow looking at issues from different angles. In this case, the Christian parent’s Mike and Joanne, face the grave condition that befell their child and requires immediate medical attention. James’s condition deteriorated after his parents decided to refuse dialysis to help him alleviate the effects of kidney failure. Now the only thing that might save James is the kidney transplant. Mike struggles between the choice to continue believing in God and pray for the child’s miraculous saving and let the doctors save their son by taking the kidney from his twin brother.

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Mike and Joanne’s strength of faith

One of the most pressing issues from the standpoint of Christian doctrine appears to be the question of Mike and Joanne’s strength of faith. In accordance with the biblical teachings, those who are not strong enough in their faith in God suffer from misfortune, while those who believe zealously and selflessly enjoy His blessings (Purcell et al., 2016). In the framework of this paradigm, James’ illness progression stems from the insufficient belief in the word of God.

In this case, the pastor translates and explains the will of God to people motivating them to give themselves to God completely and let Him work His miracles gave an excellent speech to have Mike and Joanne strengthen their faith. In addition to that, God’s miracles were shown to them through the fact that a person who was a strong believer regained his health. The clear demonstration of His power should have been the motivating factor in the parents’ decision about their son’s treatment plan.

However, due to their insufficient resilience, the issue surfaced again. The parents were frightened by the aggravating condition of their son and lost their faith in order to seek help not from the divine and all-saving power but from mortals.

Apparently, in the fact that the illness progressed, there was a warning from God that Mike and Joanne should better believe with all their heart if they want to save their child. If viewed from another perspective, the illness of their son is a test of faith by itself, rather than a punishment for weak beliefs. God assigns only so many trials upon an individual that he or she can handle. Thus, this unfortunate event is a test that Mike and Joanne are destined to handle.

The ability of a medical professional

The physician should not allow Mike to continue making decisions that can harm his son. The ability of a medical professional to stop the parents from denying their children medical service is not yet fully granted by the law (Wilson, 2016). Therefore, the only leverage the physician can apply in this case and in this moment is to use verbal persuasion. Clearly, the argument should be based on the fact that the treatment was needed when the doctors suggested so, and further delays might harm James even more.

It should, however, be pointed out that the conversation should be based on an ethical understanding of the situation. Bluntly conveying the thought that the Christian faith did not help to save his son and the time has come to abandon it in order to save the boy will unlikely yield results.

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Other tactics should be used in order to dissuade Mike and Joanne from the decision that could potentially kill their son. For instance, the physician could interpret their actions as idleness, which is also a sin, and persuade them that God wants them to save their son by acting and making decisions rather than waiting for the miracle. This is also a delicate matter, and there is a high chance that Mike could argue with that or consider such a suggestion as an insult. Therefore, the idea should be worded carefully but firmly.

There is also another side to this matter, which may put the physician in no position to decide for the parents the fate of James. The freedom of religion that is granted by the First Amendment is a constitutional right that is bestowed upon Mike and Joanne, and the physician cannot argue with their choice if it is warranted by their religious beliefs. Given that, the physician’s rights are only to advise the parents of the possible outcomes in the case if the suggested course of action is ignored. As stated in the case study, the physician fulfilled his or her duty in regard to that. The autonomy principle of medical ethics guides such a path.

On the other hand, there is a clear and imminent death threat to the child if a new kidney is not delivered in time. From the standpoint of ethics of medical conduct, it is a strong argument in favor of beneficence of the kidney replacement. There appear to be no complications associated with the treatment plan suggested by the doctors in comparison to the healing proposition. Thus, it is imperative that the physician exercises all his or her powers to argue for the operation.

The Cristian doctrine

The Cristian doctrine, in this case, would suggest that it is God who decides who lives and who dies because he creates life itself (Purcell et al., 2016). Therefore, the propositions of the doctors on the point of what will save or harm the life of a child might not be deemed credible. Only God can decide to save the child, and the parents should have faith that God decides to do so. If for any reason this will not happen, then it was also God’s will, and Mike and Joanne should accept it and continue believing because the Lord works in mysterious ways.

From the standpoint of treatment refusal, the case is another illustration of how detrimental it may be for the health and wellbeing of the patient. Wilson (2016) argues that there is an abundance of cases when due to the parents’ religious beliefs, children were denied treatment which resulted in the death of the latter. There are numerous campaigns that strive towards giving health care professionals the power of decision-making in life and death cases, yet they did not yield much result. However, in certain instances, the court of law brought parents to justice for denying treatment to their child (Wilson, 2016). In the case of James, one could argue that it is also criminal negligence, and the parents should be notified of that.

On the other hand, patient autonomy is one of the fundamental principles in medical ethics, and the doctors are in no power to violate it. Free will is granted to a patient or to their guardians, and unless there is a clear indication of the guardian being in no position to make adequate decisions, the physician’s powers are limited. Organ donation is also a question of guardianship as the patient is not old enough to voice his statement regarding the matter. Therefore, parents are in full command, both legally and morally, of whatever outcomes their decisions will bring. Medical professionals here can act only as advisors and may only use the power of persuasion.

Christian beliefs

There is no unanimous opinion in Christian doctrine as to what decisions should be made in regard to health and sickness. Christian beliefs on this matter are dissimilar among different confessions and sects. In accordance with the data from Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs (n.d.), pain and suffering that are encountered in the course of life hold a transformative value and may be perceived as a necessary prerequisite for redemption. In application to this case, the illness of James might be an indication that Mike or Joanne have to repent for something that they have done.

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On the other hand, the sanctity of human life and the powers of medical arts to preserve it are also recognized among Christians who appeal to the ability and willingness of Jesus to heal others (Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, n.d.). Therefore, as a Christian, Mike should preserve the life of his son through the means of modern medicine and honor the sacrifice of Jesus. The reasoning that he should adopt needs to be based on the fact that his son is an innocent being, and his suffering is not warranted. His life is precious and has to be saved by appealing to medical professionals for help.


The case presents a medical ethics dilemma, and there is no right and wrong decision here. Mike and Joanne are at liberty to act as they please because they are the official guardians of their children. Yet, in the case where the life of their son, James, is in danger, The Christian faith and medical ethics might find common ground and agree the medical intervention being the best way to preserve the life of an innocent child.


Wilson, J. (2016). Letting them die: parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ. The Guardian. Web.

Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. (n.d.). Christianity on health and illness. Web.

Purcell, H. N., Whisenhunt, A., Cheng, J., Dimitriou, S., Young, L. R., & Grossoehme, D. H. (2015). “A remarkable experience of God, shaping us as a family”: Parents’ use of faith following child’s rare disease diagnosis. Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, 21(1), 25-38.

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