Jan 24 2014

Debating Faith Healing

In Idaho since 2009 four children were allowed to die of treatable illnesses because their parents relied upon faith healing alone. Their families were members of the Followers of Christ.

These cases have sparked a renewed debate in Idaho about allowing parents to deny their children basic medical care based upon their religious beliefs. Idaho law currently contains this exemption:

 “Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.”

Lawmakers are discussing changing the law so that parents would be required to provide medical care, even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. State Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa had this to say:

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die. This is about where they go for eternity.”

I’m not sure what she means by “this,” but let’s assume she is referring to the entire situation of children dying from treatable illnesses because of their parent’s religious beliefs. Being generous, the issue does involve religious freedom, but it also involves the duty of the state to look after those who are unable to look after themselves, which definitely includes children.

Saying that “this is” only about the first issue is disingenuous, to say the least.

It is sometimes difficult to resolve ethical dilemmas where one ethical principle is in direct opposition to another. In this case, we cannot simultaneously fully respect the parent’s rights to make decisions for their own children based upon their religious freedoms, and respect the rights of defenseless children not to die from neglect. It comes down partly to which principle you value more, and partly to which philosophical ethical system you subscribe.

In this case, I completely support that rights of the children over the religious freedom of their parents on ethical grounds. I think this is the only defensible position. I recognize the need for religious freedom, but I think it is clear that all freedoms, including religious freedoms, have their limits. I don’t think the government would allow me to argue that paying taxes is against my faith.

I also don’t think any reasonable person would accept the argument that it is OK to murder another person because it is required by their religion. The rights of the other person not to be murdered clearly outweigh any personal religious freedom.

Once we accept that religious freedom has its limits, the primary question then becomes – where do we draw the line? Should we draw the line at providing basic medical care for children?

Another principle at play is whether or not children have the right to make autonomous decisions for themselves. Here we have significant legal precedent – children cannot vote, cannot purchase controlled items, cannot drive, cannot decide for themselves not to attend school, etc. We generally recognize that children do not yet have the capacity to make important life-or-death decisions for themselves.

In medicine, children are not able to provide consent for themselves. They require a legal guardian (the parents, by default) in order to provide consent for them.

Therefore, it cannot be reasonably argued that children can refuse life-saving medical care for themselves, whether based upon religious beliefs or anything else.

Society, and by extension the law, also recognizes that parental rights have limits. Parents cannot decide for themselves to deprive their own children of the basic needs of life – food, shelter, and education. This also includes basic medical care. Failure to provide these things is considered neglect. At least to the extent of assuring these basic needs are met, society considers all children their wards, even above the rights of parents.

All of these principles are well-established legally and ethically. The only reasonable conclusion that is consistent with these principles, in my opinion, is that parents do not have the right to allow their children to die of treatable medical conditions in order to satisfy the religious beliefs of the parents. If the parents want to allow themselves to die for their religious beliefs, they do have that right. But they don’t have the right to sacrifice their children at the altar of their beliefs.

Boiling all this down to, “This is about religious beliefs,” is absurd. It’s insulting.

I hope that the Idaho legislature does the right thing. Cases in which children die horribly of treatable diseases should be discussed prominently in the media – not to emotionalize the issue, but to keep it on the public radar. Sects that practice medical neglect of children want to stay under the radar, and want to be shielded by laws passed by pandering politicians.

I would prefer a transparent public discussion – let’s work through the issues and do what is right.

187 responses so far

187 thoughts on “Debating Faith Healing”

  1. Wrigs13 says:

    While I agree, I wonder how far this concept could or should be carried.

    If the rights of children should be protected over the desires or beliefs of the parents, which reasonably they should, then should parents be forced to give birth in hospitals which are, as I understand it, safer for the child, but perhaps not the experience the parent may wish to have.

    Or should children be allowed to be home schooled where there emotional and social skills may be diminished compared to their peers in main stream education?

    Parents should not be allowed to harm their children or through inaction allow them to be harmed, simply to allow the parent to follow an internal belief system, be that religious, political or ideological. Harm has a much broader range than just withholding medical treatment.

    While some will call this a slippery slope that will erode parents rights and religious freedoms, it is much easy to make head way at the extreme ends of the debate in the hope of bringing a better standard to what is in a childs best interest.

  2. Wrigs, I would think that if it turned out that birth in hospitals was demonstrably far safer, I see no problem in the state demanding it. It seems to me no different than the state demanding we wear seat belts and drive a certain speed. I also have no problems demanding mainstream education if indeed homeschool could be shown to be very detrimental, though agree this would be a tougher sell.

    One of your comments interestingly reads like Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Parenting, which might be a great idea!

  3. Kawarthajon says:

    Wrigs/The Other John Mc:

    It is not as simple as saying it is always safer to have children born in hospital. In Canada, for high risk pregnancies, that is the case. For routine deliveries, however, it has been shown to be marginally safer to have deliveries at home, supported by appropriate professionals. This is why my wife and I decided to have both of our children born at home, with the support of qualified mid-wives. We did nothing to put our children in harm’s way and would have gone to hospital if there had been any complications, either prior to labour starting or after the labour began. Forcing my wife to deliver our children in hospital would have violated our human rights.

    It is also a human right to be allowed to provide education for your children at home. My kids go to a great public school, but I know a number of parents who choose to home-school their kids to protect them from bullying or because public schools don’t teach religion (at least, “their” religion – we have a weird system where some public schools are Catholic and teach religion, at the expense of taxpayers). That’s the choice parents make, as long as it doesn’t put the children at risk of serious harm. Saying that they will have social deficits because they are schooled at home is not enough – you could argue that sticking young kids in a state-run classroom full of 25-30 kids, some of whom are bullies, could also cause emotional harm. A recent study in Ontario suggests that full-day kindergarten for young children (4-6 years) is actually more harmful that keeping them home or sending them to daycare.

    The cases discussed in this article, however, are not in some grey area. The parents, had they lived in Canada, would have been criminally charged with “Failure to provide the necessities of life”, a serious offence that can result in lengthy jail sentences, although people typically get a lighter sentence of Probation. Furthermore, the families described in the article that Steve linked to should have been referred to the child protection authorities and their rights as parents should have been challenged. The children should have been placed in foster homes until their parents could prove that they could meet their children’s basic medical needs. Lives would have probably been saved by using this approach.

    The exemption in Idaho, which states “Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child”, is utterly ridiculous and would not fly in my home province of Ontario. The State routinely interferes with parental rights to protect children in these cases, although there are always cases that fall through the cracks.

  4. The state’s responsibility to protect its citizens has to be balanced against the right of people to be left alone. Everything is an individual decision – so no slippery slope.

    How much liberty do we surrender to seat-belt laws vs how much safety does it provide?

    These cases are controversial because both sides of the equation are high stakes – religious freedom vs the life of children. But I think the life of children easily take precedence.

  5. steve12 says:


    She says that she’s strongly pro-life. Unless the fetus is in it’s 16th trimester, then we just might have to kill it (paraphrasing George Carlin).

    This may be a childish response, but I really wish these people would just go away.

  6. uncle_steve says:

    This really is a form of homicide due to neglect. If we are going to allow this for religious reasons, we might as well allow rape for religious reasons; some religions after all have no problem with grown men marrying 10 year old girls.

    Of course, I do not advocate such a thing since I believe there should never be religious exceptions for rape, murder or any crime for that matter.

  7. Sastra says:

    Boiling all this down to, ”This is about religious beliefs,” is absurd. It’s insulting.

    Yes and no. Technically, the law is distinguishing between religious belief which doesn’t impact or intrude into the secular world too much … from religious belief which does. It’s saying that the government will NOT grant that parents have a reasonable right to expect a miracle or assume that medical care which saves their child’s life will also damn their child (or someone else) to hell. You can believe it — but you can’t act on your beliefs as if they were really true.

    Which I have no problem with. Nor would most religious people, in this situation.

    But people who take their religious beliefs as refutations of the natural world (as opposed to benign additions to it) recognize that their alternative reality is being given second-class status when it comes to the law. So it’s not really an absurd interpretation; the absurdity is in the belief which is being treated as absurd.

  8. evhantheinfidel says:

    It’s worth noting that the religiosity doesn’t even factor in if we think about this correctly. This country’s focus was not so much religious freedom as the separation of church and state. If something is legal or illegal, it should be regardless of what any religion has to say about it. What’s more, if the government makes exceptions, that puts them is a position of determining whether what someone believes is a religion or not. I think that’s a situation to be avoided.

  9. TheFlyingPig says:

    “Idaho law currently contains this excemption:”

    Excemption huh? When I saw that, I wondered if it was a legitimate term with a specific meaning… but no. Now I’m wondering if it’s a typo or another example of Dr. Novella purposefully misusing language to mess with people. I can’t remember the medical term he mispronounced on the SGU, but when Rebecca asked him about it, it turns out he was using his “MD” cred to mess with people. Now I’m worried I’ll be stuck thinking ‘excemption’ the same way I can’t help but think R-fid for RFID.


  10. @Steve

    ” In this case, we cannot simultaneously fully respect the parent’s rights to make decisions for their own children based upon their religious freedoms, and respect the rights of defenseless children not to die from neglect. ”

    Or to put this more simply, parents don’t have the right to harm or kill their children. So this issue is not in fact nuanced at all.

  11. Hanlon’s razor:

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

  12. BillyJoe7 says:

    Incredibly, in the other thread, he was slamming us all for our philosophical ignorance!
    ( So as not to be accused of “ad hominem”, how do you spell “conceited fool” |: )

  13. Martin Lewitt says:

    The issue isn’t about faith healing but rather whether the state really has a duty “to look after those who are unable to look after themselves, which definitely includes children”. The founders managed to create a federal government which did not have this “duty”, and apparently the Idaho state doesn’t have the duty either. The philosopher within me wonders where that duty came from, and if it exists whether it resides in the state. The scientist in me doesn’t find such presumably beneficial into the lives of other groups to be human, in fact human evolution appears to be marked by often destructive competition with other groups. Our culture currently at least selectively rejects this duty. We no longer take children from their parents and put them in Indian Schools in order to civilize them and teach them english. We honor the preferences of those who choose traditional healers like curanderas. It is time to grant equality of deference to the cultures of white and black Christians. Given the dangers and excesses that come with a state that presumes to have such a “duty”, perhaps we should keep in perspective a mere 4 deaths among the 2 million in the US who died that year.

  14. BillyJoe7 says:

    Yeah, I suppose we should just stand by…while the parents pray over a child with acute appendicitis…while it bursts spreading faeculent material into the peritoneum…while the infection spreads into the blood stream causing circulatory collapse, coma, and death. Well, at least she will stop screaming at this point – that should soothe our consciences a little over the sacrifice of a young child on the altar of political ideology. And, hey, only one in about a million who die every year. No big deal.

  15. rezistnzisfutl says:

    Yes, let’s give a free pass to those who subject their helpless offspring to harmful or deadly practices for the sake of cultural diversity and religious tolerance. Perhaps we should go as far as to consider human maiming and/or sacrifice because, well, it’s religious freedom. Maybe those mental illnesses really are demons, so the death of children who are “possessed” is really a relief for them if you think about it. Afterall, those beliefs should be honored and held with equivalent deference as any other, because religious freedom is paramount. Sounds reasonable to me.

  16. sonic says:

    I believe the legal precedent is here-
    Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981).

    This states-
    it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”

    I believe this renders the claim “the state has a duty to look after those who are unable to look after themselves,” false.

    If that premise is false, then does that alter the conclusion?

  17. Martin Lewitt says:

    BillyJoe7, you just standby and let people die all the time that could be saved by modern medicine, millions could be saved just by Pedialyte. So we aren’t asking you to do anything you haven’t done before. Do you think you own these particular people or something? Why not first do no harm, and help reduce the FDA’s delays in access to life saving drugs or even better make all prescription medicines available over the counter without a prescription, so that there are no longer lives lost due to the time and expense of getting a doctor’s approval.

  18. tmac57 says:

    I can just imagine a situation where an intersection in a residential neighborhood where there are no stop signs,and there is now a trend where many accidents both fatal and non-fatal are occuring there
    due to increased traffic.So I and my neighbors who are concerned about the danger to the public,approach the city council with data showing the need for traffic signs at this dangerous intersection,only to be told by the council that “Hey! There are children dying in Africa due to hunger,and you expect us to care about a few deaths due to a missing stop sign! Please! Go do something about those children first and then we’ll talk about your precious stop sign!”

  19. Martin Lewitt says:

    tmac57, I assume for the sake of your analogy being relevant, that you are talking about an intersection in some other neighborhood that you and your protesting neighbors don’t use, and that those that actually use that intersection think the risk is well worth it, perhaps for the time it saves, or because they have faith in their own driving skills.

  20. tmac57 says:

    Martin,I assume that you cannot properly parse an analogy. Your previous comment to BillyJoe amounted to a Tu Quoque fallacy,and a non sequitur.

  21. BBBlue says:

    So where does abortion fit into this discussion, or does it at all?

    One may argue that helpless children should be protected from their parent’s bad decisions or stupidity, but what is the basis for that? That it is morally indefensible not to? That a responsible society has an obligation to protect children? That subordinating an innocent life to religious beliefs is wrong and devalues all life?

    If it is wrong to allow children to die from treatable diseases for the reasons above, why is it acceptable to play semantic games in defining life so that one may justify secular arguments about “women’s reproductive health” (i.e., stabbing fetuses and tossing them in the trash)?

    Those who would support government in their efforts to save a child from a family’s religion, but who also characterize late term abortions as a woman’s right to choose or a reproductive health issue seem more than just a tad bit hypocritical to me. In this context, and absent public health issues, isn’t letting a child die under those circumstances more consistent with the the pro-choice position on abortion?

  22. teacr says:

    Sonic, Warren v. DC is at best obliquely related to this issue. that case is about whether a government can be compelled to administer services; this issue is about whether an illegal behavior can be permitted to individuals on the basis of their desiring to engage in that behavior. Specifically, whether failure to obtain needed medical attention- otherwise established as a form of child abuse- can be allowed to those whose religion endorses that failure.

    In any case, Warren refers specifically to “individual citizens” and has no bearing on broad, abstract rights and duties of the type we’re discussing here. If, for instance, a family was requesting that the state of Idaho be obliged to respond to their violation of the law, the state might argue that Warren supported their inaction. You can try googling this for a quick course on what that the case means and how it’s been applied in other decisions.

    As for the premise being invalid, it’s clear that the state has the right to intervene in situations of child abuse; this is inarguable and the religious exemption in Idaho is a legal anomaly. In fact, I think you’ll find that precedent is firmly on the side of intervention, and has been for at least 150 years, since the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that parents’ “authority must be exercised within the bounds of reason and humanity.” in Fletcher v. People, 52 Il. 395 (1869).

  23. tmac57 says:

    BBBlue- Is abortion an absolute black and white issue for you? Is abortion wrong in every situation as far as you are concerned?
    It is not a simple question as to where to draw such a line in my opinion.

  24. RickK says:


    It is not black and white. A 4-cell zygote is not a person. Aborting a 3-month old fetus is not the same as allowing a baby to slowly die over months from treatable eczema. Telling a mother she must take her child to the doctor is not the same as telling a woman she must carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and bear financial responsibility for the child for life.

    So society must find the shade of gray that we can all accept, and almost nobody will be truly happy with the color.

    I rather think that technology will settle the abortion debate. Once everybody is identified by their unique genetic code for every financial transaction (ala Gattaca), then fathers can be held inescapably responsible for each of their children. Once every source of legal income a father receives has childcare automatically deducted, and once fathers cannot escape at least 50% of child custody responsibilities, political and religious resistance to birth control and abortion will vanish.

  25. BBBlue says:

    Aborting a zygote does not disturb me at all, but I get a bit queasy about aborting 20-week-old fetuses when the mother’s health is not in jeopardy. Yes, lots of gray area in between. When someone like Wendy Davis becomes a Democrat hero for conflating “women’s reproductive health” and a “woman’s right to choose” with on-demand, late-term abortion, I can’t help but think it’s likely that some of her biggest fans wouldn’t think twice about defending innocent life against religious values while subordinating it to a secular cause célèbre.

  26. Martin Lewitt says:

    tmac57, The key point you analogy missed is that it is no skin off your nose if those 4 kids live or die and those more directly involved with the ill children were happy with risks associated with the beliefs and behaviors. Thus your intersection analogy completely missed the point by having you and your neighbors at risk at that intersection. That is why it had to be corrected to an intersection you and your neighbors didn’t use, in order to be analogous in that important regard. Thus when you go to the council, they wouldn’t be off base telling you the locals prefer the intersection that way it is, so you should go find some other children to save and leave those people alone. I not only parsed your analogy, I improved it in a way that is arguably more analogous, on the points at issue.

  27. BillyJoe7 says:

    “tmac…it is no skin off your nose if those 4 kids live or die”

    Yes, I’m sure he couldn’t care less.

    “and those more directly involved with the ill children were happy with risks associated with the beliefs and behaviors”

    Really? I would have thought that they would have at least regarded it as an unfortunate if necessary consequence for their child of their religious beliefs. The question is are we happy to let children suffer and die for the religious beliefs of their parents?

  28. tmac57 says:

    Martin- Just because the world is vast,and the problems are too numerous for every single person who care about them to be directly involved with solving them,does not preclude someone from caring or having an opinion,or even taking action on a particular situation,even if it doesn’t involve them personally.
    I can have an opinion on capital punishment despite not being on death row,or knowing anyone who is or ever was. I can vote for,lobby,write letters to those in, or seeking the power to affect that issue.
    Your comments seem to be edging toward nihlism. The rights of parents over their children are not absolute,so we have to draw a line somewhere,even if that line starts to get uncomfortably close to challenging religious beliefs at times. Society has banished religious practices that are harmful many times over our long history,and for the most part for the benefit of humanity everywhere,not just in “my neighborhood”.

  29. sonic says:

    Actually I think the evidence is clear- religious intolerance has cost many more lives than religious tolerance.
    (Compare four lives lost since 2009 to the number lost in the Holocaust to start the calculations…)

    That would be taking an evidential approach to this– it appears the more emotional and usual- “But I care,” approach is more common here.


  30. BillyJoe7 says:

    Apparently we can show our religious tolerance by allowing children to die for their parents religious beliefs. The logic escapes me but, there we go, some people can twist their minds to any degree necessary to accommodate religion.

    And, apparently, to acknowledge the emotional aspects of a situation is anti sceptical and anti scientific or, at least, not part of the “evidential approach”. Well, thanks for sharing your view on the matter but I think I’ll pass if you don’t mind.

    But the characterisation implied by “but I care” is beyond the pale.

  31. tmac57 says:

    sonic- Are you being serious? That is by far one of the more ignorant comments that I have seen on this blog…and that’s saying a lot.
    Even you could pick that one apart.

  32. Kawarthajon says:

    This story is likely playing out one of two ways – either the parents know that the faith healing will not work, but won’t seek medical attention for their children because of religious beliefs (a similar situation that is played out when parents refuse blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs) or the parents truly believe that the faith healing will work. Either way, these parents are not capable of making rational decisions to protect their children’s basic well-being (i.e. their lives) and their parental rights should be revoked. Despite being somewhat arbitrary, society has come up with some basic rights that we are all entitled to (i.e. right to life, liberty, and security of the person in Canada and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the U.S.). We live in a society in which religious beliefs are a human right, but they do not trump other human rights.

    Sonic’s religious intolerance/tolerance argument doesn’t make any sense. So, we should allow cannibalism based on a person’s religious beliefs (i.e. historic cultures in the South Pacific)? Or we should demand that women throw themselves on the burning pyre of their dead husbands (i.e. cultures in India)? Or we should allow men to marry multiple women, including children (i.e. extremist Mormons)? Or how about genital mutilation of girls (i.e. African cultures)? No, the State has the responsibility and the right to step in and protect these children from their parents, regardless of what their religious beliefs are.

  33. rezistnzisfutl says:


    …,then fathers can be held inescapably responsible for each of their children. Once every source of legal income a father receives has childcare automatically deducted, and once fathers cannot escape at least 50% of child custody responsibilities, political and religious resistance to birth control and abortion will vanish.

    This is assuming that women are already held into equal account, both financially and socially, for the responsibilities of the child. The flip side of your coin is that women have all the power to decide to keep the baby to term or not, as per the case in present society, yet the father is bound to hold financial responsibility for the child whether he wants the pregnancy terminated or not. See, women have all the choice, power, and say in what happens to the pregnancy, and little of the responsibility other than being physically present. She doesn’t even have strict financial responsibility. Furthermore, the man is assumed to be the non-custodial parent with 0% visitation for which he has to fight to get any at all.

    From reading your post, it seems that it’s pretty one-sided in favor of women. Men have essentially no say after his sperm is released, and he is on the hook whether he wants the baby or not. Women, on the other hand, can get an abortion any time during the first three months after conception, whether the father wants the child or not.

    I’m all for reproductive rights, all around for both women AND men, not just women.

  34. BillyJoe7 says:

    Yeah, but that was only part 1: Make a controversial but sufficiently ambiguous statement.
    Stand by for part 2: Backpedal by explaining how we have all misunderstood his statement.
    I’ve got no idea if this is a deliberate strategy but it is an oft repeated one.

  35. BillyJoe7 says:


    I don’t know if you have a personal stake in this discussion but…

    You seem to have forgotten that it is the woman who is pregnant.

    Would you suggest that the mother and the father should be required to make a joint decision regarding abortion? What if the mother wants to terminate the pregnancy but the father wants the pregnancy to proceed? Would you support a bill stating that both the mother and the father must agree on the termination before it can proceed. What if the father wants the pregnancy terminated but the mother wants the pregnancy to proceed. I assume that you wouldn’t suggest that she be forced to terminate.
    So what is the solution?

    The only sensible solution that I can see is that the final choice should be by the person who is actually pregnant. It is she who will have to carry the pregnancy to term and be primarily responsible for caring for the child. Or it will be she who will have to undergo the termination. You would certainly hope that she makes her decision after discussing the situation with the father and taking his opinions and sensitivities into account. But this will depend a lot on the quality of their relationship prior to the pregnancy. But, in the end, the decision has to be hers.

    And, surely, if her decision is to proceed with the pregnancy, the father must provide, at the very least, financial support for the child regardless of his attitude towards the pregnancy. It would simply be too easy for him to proclaim that he wanted the mother to terminate the pregnancy and therefore deny any financial support for the child. It is certainly true that, in a situation where their relationship has been damaged or severed, the mother can make it very difficult for the father is she decides she doesn’t want him to be involved with the child. It can cost him a great deal in time, court cost, and emotional pain.
    But I don’t think that is different from any other legal tussle that people involve themselves in.

  36. rezistnzisfutl says:

    The decision terminate the pregnancy or not SHOULD be up to both parents, but no one else. Men SHOULD be given at least some consideration in what happens to the child, especially if he’s willing to take the child and she is not. It’s not an invalid point that the woman is the one who has the burden of pregnancy and birth, but that can’t be helped and is ultimately moot when it comes to who has actual rights to parenthood and support.

    If the mother wants to continue with the pregnancy and the father wants to forgo his parenthood, he should be given the opportunity to do so, meaning that he is then no longer obligated to provide child support. That is more than equitable for the choice the woman is making to take the pregnancy to term.

    …,the father must provide,…

    Why? Why MUST the father provide. Why can’t the father stay home and care for the child while the mother works? Granted, she may need some time to recover, but women are already granted maternity leave. After that, there really is no reason why it’s automatically expected men must provide financial support while women get to stay home of they want to. Why can’t women be the breadwinners and men be the caregivers? It is a massive assumption that women are automatically the better nurturers.

    It would simply be too easy for him to proclaim that he wanted the mother to terminate the pregnancy and therefore deny any financial support for the child.

    Says who? I would counter by saying that most men actually want to be part of their children’s lives. The problem is, given that the power to procreate lies almost entirely with women (barring men having to be monks and abstaining for the rest of their lives), men don’t have any choice in the matter. If women had to equally provide for the child, there would likely be far fewer unwanted pregnancies in the world.

    The way it is now, if a woman wants a child, she can get one, be it through honest or other means. Why should it be assumed that men are the providers and women are the caretakers? This smacks of the 1950s to me. Why is it that women have just about ALL of the reproductive and child-rearing rights, yet men have the responsibility? Yes, women have to carry the child to term for 9 months, so what? He’s on the hook for the next 20 years whether he wants to be or not, on the pain of jail time and financial ruin.

    I’m not suggesting that women should be forced to do something to their bodies (unlike circumcision, but that’s another can of worms), but men should have equal rights to choose their own destinies as the women. If that were the case, women would need to start equally considering the consequences for their own actions and not rely so heavily on men, and the state, to take up the slack.

  37. BillyJoe7 says:


    You said both parents should make the decision. But my question was: how does that work out in practise? Obviously if both parents agree we don’t have a problem. The problem is when they disagree. The only solution I can see is that the mother makes the final decision. Depending on the quality of the relationship, she make take into account the wishes and sensitivities of the father. For example in the situation where the pregnancy resulted from a casual meeting at a party, she is unlikely, and can’t be expected, to give much weight to his wishes. But if they are in a long term intimate relationship, their continued relationship may hinge on her decision and she would likely give his wishes considerable weight.

    If the mother decided to proceed with the pregnancy, and the father wants to forgo parenthood, I’m afraid he has missed the boat. He should perhaps have thought about that before engaging in risky sexual behaviour. But, of course, things happen beyond what people plan for and try to guard against so, again, it is a matter of finding the best solution. But the child is the important consideration here and that child needs, at the very least, financial support from the father.

    And of course the father can stay at home and look after the child while the mother works. I was merely covering the most common situation which is the father working and the mother staying at home to look after the child. It’s difficult to cover every permutation and combination in a short post.

    And of course most men want to be part of their children’s lives. But some don’t and, in this case, I was offering up for consideration the situation where they don’t. I know of someone who fathered a child after a one night stand and, despite the mother wanting to have nothing to do with him, he suffered great personal and financial stress in order to gain and keep access to his child. I also know of someone who left his wife after the birth of their third child and hasn’t seen his children for five years. There are all permutations and combinations.

    Finally, if you are not suggesting that women should be forced to do anything to their bodies, then what solution do you see other than the women making the final decision regarding the termination.

  38. Bill Openthalt says:


    This story is likely playing out one of two ways – either the parents know that the faith healing will not work, but won’t seek medical attention for their children because of religious beliefs (a similar situation that is played out when parents refuse blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs) or the parents truly believe that the faith healing will work.

    You forget the third way — the parents believe that if the child dies, it is because their god has plans they do not fathom, and in any case, the dead child has a (better) existence in the hereafter (which, I remind you, religious people are convinced exists).

    Only if life on earth is the only life humans have it is worth preserving at the cost of going against the (perceived) designs of an (imaginary) god.

  39. BillyJoe7 says:

    “the dead child has a (better) existence in the hereafter (which, I remind you, religious people are convinced exists)”

    Yet their actions often seem to betray this belief, because they cling on to this life as frantically as any non-believer and are as distraught as any non-believer when their loved ones depart this supposedly miserable life for the supposed magnificence of the hereafter.

  40. SteveA says:

    uncle steve: “This really is a form of homicide due to neglect.”

    Perhaps an ‘end of pipe’ solution is the best that can be hoped for: a murder charge for the parents and subsidiary charges for anyone who encouraged them.

    The threat of a long prison term (or worse) might help ‘sharpen’ their thinking. Sadly it’s often necessary to appeal to someone’s self interest before they start to see sense. For example, the mother who let her baby scratch herself to death – the moment mommy became ill, she went straight to a doctor.

  41. Kawarthajon says:

    Bill Openthalt:

    While you may be right, most people who believe in a heaven or some sort of good afterlife still don’t want their children to die. I sincerely hope that these parents did not want their children to die and go to heaven. Regardless, I stand my my position that these parents are not capable of meeting their children’s medical needs and are forfeiting their parental rights as a consequence.

    The paradox of Christianity (and other religions) is that they typically want to preserve life on Earth, even if they believe that their experiences in heaven will be better than their life on Earth, so I don’t think your argument stands. I certainly don’t think that only athiests, non-religious people or other religions that don’t believe in heaven are exclusive in wanting to preserve life. Most Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc., believe in preserving life, although there are always notable exceptions.


    A murder charge won’t work – there’s little chance of you proving that the parents tried to kill their children or had a plan to do so. I don’t know what the American equivalent would be, but in Canada the criminal charge is called “Failure to provide the necessities of life” and is akin to manslaughter – unintentional killing of someone. The FTPNOL charge is usually reserved for caregivers who neglect the care of whomever they are responsible for caring for (i.e. child, elderly parent, disabled family member, etc.) to the point where the person in their care gets seriously harmed, seriously ill or dies. This can come with a long prison sentence.

  42. sonic says:

    Which “State” are you talking about that has a responsibility to protect children from their parents? Is there a country that has that as part of the constitution or something?
    It is because I don’t think such a duty exists that I have no problem siding with what the state is supposed to protect– the right to practice one’s religion.
    (This is not to say that children don’t need protection from their parents sometimes– I’m just not sure it is the states job. The only thing that stopped the kids I saw being abused from being further abused was me. The state? Nobody from the state could, should, or would do what I did.)

    No problem acknowledging emotional aspects of the situation-

    Let’s see- a child ripped from a his mother’s arms while she is pleading with her life not to take him– the child wrestling mightily to be let go- the father watching helplessly surrounded by numerous large and obviously armed men… the neighbors and friends watching helplessly as their deepest wishes are ignored by a government that is supposed to protect their religious freedoms… knowing that these same people can take their children at anytime as well…

    If you were to say- “You have a funny way of looking at things,” I’d say, “You’re telling me?” (and if that didn’t make you smile)… “So tell me something I don’t know.”

    I’m thinking the parents are thinking what is happening to the child is horrible.
    You might be thinking that what is being done to the child is really good and everyone will see that in the end.

    I’m wondering if I were the father, would I shoot the person kidnapping my child…

    I think we should allow more religious freedom- for example I’m not sure a person should be forced to pay for an abortion, or war.

    Not being forced to pay for war. Now I’m being silly.

  43. Kawarthajon says:


    The “State” refers to governments all around the world, including the United Nations (i.e. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”). I don’t know about your particular situation, but the “state” (i.e. Federal, State/Provincial and Municipal governements) has a responsibility, as set out in our various constitutions (depending on where you live), to protect its citizens from harm – including children. Whether they do a good job of it or whether people fall through the cracks is an entirely different discussion. I would argue that the state should intervene to protect children, whether or not they could do it effectively or would in the situation described by Steve is another question.

  44. steve12 says:

    Welcome to the unfortunately popular (in America, at least) world of Freedom Fetish: Libertarianism.

    Based on child like assumptions about human psychology (ironically, just like communism), it’s an unempirical model of human interaction wherein the model of reality is said to trump the very reality it’s modeling when the model fails, morally or otherwise. Which is often. The philosophy is inviolable; reality will just have to pound sand.

    When this model dictates “Better parents kill their kids than the state infringe on the parent’s personal freedom”, the model is STILL not modified. The Model has spoken: a private citizen intervenes, or the kids die.

    Modifying the model to save the kids, as Sonic so tritely pointed out, is what the Nazi’s did. And do you want to be a Nazi? No, of course you don’t.

  45. sonic says:

    Early I quoted this from the DC court of appeals- (I’m asserting it is the legal precedent in this situation):

    it is a ‘fundamental principle of American law that a government and it agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”
    (I believe this explains why people can’t sue the police when crime happens.)

    I’m not sure of where the notion the ‘state’ has the duty to protect children from parents comes from. Can you tell me what legal document your are referring to?

    The UN charter states- “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
    The child in this case wants to stay with the parents.
    Does the child have any of the rights listed above- or is a child not part of ‘everyone’?

    The UN charter is not the law of any land- but I don’t see that even this charter justifies what you are suggesting here.

    “Libertarian philosophy as we know it today has its roots in the classical liberalism of European political philosophers whose writings inspired the post-revolutionary governments of the United States and France during the latter years of the 18th century. The basic tenets of this classical liberalism are very simple:
    1. The legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens.
    2. People have a right to be left alone and live their own lives as long as they do not do so in a way that infringes on others’ right to do the same.”

    It is true that in this case the government is ignoring the right to free practice of religion. It is also true the activities of the family involved don’t stop anyone else from doing whatever (unless that whatever involves taking people against their will and doing things to them they don’t want done.)

    Is that the model you are talking about?
    How has it failed?

  46. Factoidjunkie says:


    Dr. Novella is correct – this is a troublesome case of two disparate ideologies in conflict.

    States emerge to adjudicate the variety of individual differences through the appeal of collective values.

    Both the parents and the state have the same values in this case – the child’s well-being.

    Aggrieved citizens have recourse when individual views come into conflict with collective views. They can appeal to the courts for remedy, move to place more amenable to their views (gays moving from one state to another more favorable to gay marriage say), or attempt to gain enough support to have the collective in their area alter the law to a more amenable status.

    You can look at the varying laws concerning abortion among the states as an example of the above.

    In the USA, you can practice (even invent) your religion of choice. But religion is not sufficient to overrule the laws the collective (state) have decided is just. Religion may be sufficient to motivate a change in the state laws, but not to disobey them.

  47. rezistnzisfutl says:


    You say that the mother should make the final decision as to what happens to the child. In essence, that’s agreeing that the mother has all the choice and power in the decision of the father, and it’s up to her whether or not the father has any say not only in what happens to the child, but what happens to him in regards to the child.

    Sorry, but no. The relinquishing of all parental rights and decisions has been an unfortunate consequence of feminism beginning in the 20th century, and something that is going to have to change because the laws and customs surrounding it are intolerable. For one, women are complicit in the act of creating a child, so she bears just as much responsibility. Considering that the man cannot have a say in what she does with her body, he should have say over whether he wants to be a father or not, including and up to whether that includes financial support. The problem with your mindset is that the mother has any number of options and choices regarding contraception, conception, whether to terminate the pregnancy, or take it to term, at which point she can choose to abandon the child or give it up for adoption (if they aren’t married) without any say from the father.

    The inequity of this is completely one-sided, and it’s not going to work. See, the mother CHOOSES to have a child, because she WANTS a child, and this CHOICE forces the father both legally and socially to accept responsibility whether he wants it or not. The woman CHOOSES to engage in all sorts of what you term “risky behavior” with no thought of the consequences, because there is no legal or social expectation of responsibility given to her. She can choose to utilize any number of contraceptive choices, to terminate the pregnancy, give up the child, or have the child. The father has zero choice in the matter. The only other option is to live like a monk for the rest of his life.

    My suggestion is that, if the mother has final say on what to do with her body, that the man has the equal choice of not participating in fatherhood in any way, shape, or form if he does not want to. This means also forgoing having to provide child support. If he wants to participate in the child’s life, then it should be assumed that 50/50 custody is the default, and any changes from that should be what is argued and support determined from there, be it paid by the mother or the father depending on circumstances and the level of visitation.

    Many women today choose to have a child without thought of the consequences and with the assumption that the father and society will pick up the tab, at least in part. If she were forced to take full responsibility for it, then the choice to have a child would be a much more serious and deliberate decision, contraception would be used far more responsibly, there would be many more male contraceptive options, and there would be far fewer unplanned pregnancies. The pregnancies that would occur would be done so willingly and with planning and forethought, and men would be willing participants more frequently than they are today.

    Honestly, and not trying to be overly rude here, but your paradigm is rather callous and inconsiderate to men. It grants all sexual and reproductive freedom to women, without any accountability, and puts all of the blame and burden on men and the taxpayer, who happens to be mostly men. It is a sexist and derogatory attitude that only serves to breed resentment rather than cooperation. It would seem to me that, giving all parties due consideration as well as expectation of accountability, it would be better for everyone.

  48. ccbowers says:

    “Early I quoted this from the DC court of appeals- (I’m asserting it is the legal precedent in this situation)”

    Actually, Sonic, this is not relevant for several reasons. One is that you are extrapolating incorrectly from the law, and you are restricting the use of the term ‘duty’ to a legal sense for individuals. It is true that the courts have generally agreed that there is no “general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen” but the key here is “general duty” and “individual citizen.” This interpretation prevents individuals from suing law enforcement everytime there is an error based upon the due process clauses of the US constitution, and is more narrow and nuanced than the broader argument you are making.

    This does NOT, however, mean that there is no general duty of protection to the public by the government (and there are many, many laws that indicate that the government disagrees with you on this, and Steve was discussing it from this perspective). There is such a duty in a broad sense, but individuals cannot sue based upon this duty, because it is no legal duty to individuals.

    Also, there are circumstances (termed “special relationships”) in which a legal duty does exist, although that does not apply in this particular example, there are other circumstances in which a duty exists.

    None of this talk about legal duties precludes the government from determining that they have an interest in protecting its citizens, including (and particularly) those who cannot protect themselves. There are countless laws at all levels, particularly at the state and local levels that do just that.

  49. Kawarthajon says:

    sonic: ‘fundamental principle of American law that a government and it agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”

    If this is the case, why does the government care whether or not you possess or use illegal drugs? How can they make criminal laws and incarcerate people for breaking them? Why is it that they can ticket you for violating the speed limit, or prevent you from entering/leaving the country? Why do the authorities have the authority to arrest you or remove your children if you are abusing them? I don’t know this particular case that you are referring to, but it doesn’t seem to have much impact on the power that your government has over its citizens or the fact that the government does provide public services, such as police protection, to its citizens.

    What law is it that states that children have the right to be protected from harm, even if that harm is being done by their parents? I don’t know where you live, but in my province it is the Child and Family Services Act: “The paramount purpose of this Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well being of children.” This law gives the Province the authority to take action if children are being abused, neglected or are at risk of being abused or neglected. Our Constitution has laid out that child protection, if it is not a criminal matter, is the jurisdiction of the Provincial government and their designates. I don’t know the particulars of where you live and the law that states that children have a right to protection, but I’ll bet that there is an equivalent law wherever you live.

  50. BBBlue says:

    Is this issue about valuing life or the law? Effective laws draw a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Even if one’s action devalues life, the person taking that action may feel a certain sense of absolution because it is legal.

    Again, I raise the issue of late-term abortion. Is that not taking life? What are the consequences if a society casually accepts the termination of thousands of unborn lives? No guilt, no remorse, no objections because it is legal? Just “material” to be ground up and discarded?

    Personally, I think the attitudes fostered by those who find any limits on abortion to be an affront to women, and who view abortion as just another kind of birth control, to be more harmful to a society than the death of children as a result of the religious beliefs of their parents. My guess is that those who would withhold treatment that could save the life of their child are going through a lot more soul searching and agony than women who think of late-term abortion as a mere inconvenience.

    Frankly, I would rather our government not intervene in those rare cases when parents sincerely believe that faith will heal their child. I also think that politicians should not provide absolution for those who take unborn lives. In an increasingly secular society that is becoming less and less susceptible to religious mumbo jumbo, can’t we depend on the intrinsic good nature of humans and their sense of community to self-limit behaviors such as this, or must we always depend on a fickle government to codify it?

  51. steve12 says:

    “1.The legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of its citizens.
    2.People have a right to be left alone and live their own lives as long as they do not do so in a way that infringes on others’ right to do the same.”

    Sorry, I forgot facile.

    “Is that the model you are talking about?”

    “How has it failed?”
    The kids are dead.

    But the philosophy was followed, and that’s what really matters in LibertarianLand!

  52. Bruce says:

    “My guess is that those who would withhold treatment that could save the life of their child are going through a lot more soul searching and agony than women who think of late-term abortion as a mere inconvenience.”

    This has to be one of the most pompous and unconsidered statements I have ever seen on this blog. Do you really purport to speak for and know the feelings of a woman who has gone through an abortion, be it early or late? Do you know the mind of a religious zealot? Do you know what it is to be a child dying slowly over many days and weeks from an easily preventable disease?

    Never mind that you are confounding two completely different issues and tying them into a neat little knot that simply does not exist outside of a continuum fallacy. Added to that you also seem to be saying that a mother has no right to abort while it is ok for her to let the child die from lack of medical attention.

    Anyway, I didn’t want to get involved here, but seeing someone make such off hand comments about women who have abortions and the emotions they go through, I felt the need to call you out. If you are a mother who has had to make the choice, for whatever reason, then you can make statements about their emotional state, otherwise don’t assume it is a “mere inconvenience” for them.

  53. Bill Openthalt says:

    Kawarthajon —

    The paradox of Christianity (and other religions) is that they typically want to preserve life on Earth, even if they believe that their experiences in heaven will be better than their life on Earth, so I don’t think your argument stands.

    I wasn’t making an argument, simply pointing out that there is a third way. And from direct experience within my circle of friends, I can assure you there are people who do “submit to the will of god” when confronted with the choice between allowing treatment they think incompatible with their religion, or the death of a child or spouse. They are distraught and they suffer, but this does not affect their faith.

    I do agree theirs is a mindset I cannot fathom, but neither can I fathom the mindset of a dishonoured samurai committing sepuku.

  54. Martin Lewitt says:

    tmac57, Why edge towards nihilism when western philosophy is steeped in it. Just jump in with both feet and join the others in trying to get out. If your emotional responses really justify forcefully interfering the lives of others, lay out your case. Establish the existence of rights to interfere, if you can. While munching on the children of wheat, provide proof of the rights of children against their religious or aboriginal parent’s values. Perhaps you have the hubris to tread fearlessly in drawing the various lines that get drawn in moral reasoning. If you are going to look around for a relevant rational scientific basis, you might first want to start with a mammalian parental “right” to their offspring. You are welcome to suggest another starting point more rigorously defensible.

  55. BillyJoe7 says:


    I didn’t say that the mother should have the final say in what should happen to the child. I said that she should have the final say regarding termination (when the parents disagree). I said that, if we are concerned about the best outcome for child (and I believe this is what we should be concerned about), then the father should be required to provide financial support. But I agree with your alternative of the mother working and the father staying at home with the child if that’s what both parents want. But the mother should always have the first option of staying at home with the child. Why? Because she carried it for nine months and it’s better to have a reason for doing something than flipping a coin.

    I also did not suggest that it should be up to the mother whether the father has anything to do with bringing up the child. The father has that right regardless of the mother’s wishes. I said the mother could make it difficult for him to have access to the child. For example she could refuse to let him in the house to pick up the child. She could move house and not inform him. He then has to take legal action which will cost him time and money and emotional distress. Yet, it he does so, the law will grant him access and require the mother to cooperate or face police intervention.

    I also disagree that the parents should have 50/50 access to the child. The reason is that this is not in the best interest of the child. Children need primary carers who look after the child the large majority of the time. It offers a degree of stability for the child. The other parent will generally be granted access one day during the week and every second week end (at least that’s the usual situation here in Australia) that seems a reasonable balance for the child.

    As for being inconsiderate of men. Yes, I agree, in general, men get a raw deal. When the parents disagree, women get the final say about termination – because they are the ones carrying the pregnancy to term or having the pregnancy terminated. If you disagree, please show me reasons why men should have the final say, because I don’t see any. Also, it’s in the best interests of the child to have a primary carer, and the primary carer should be the stay at home parent which, in practise, almost always turns out to be the mother. If both parents do not work, then the mother should generally be the primary carer unless there are special reasons why they should not be. Like mental illness in the mother. If you disagree, please show me reasons why the father should preferentially be the primary carer because, again, I don’t see any.

    You seem to be upset that men get a raw deal but you don’t really offer any good reasons why they should be given more consideration than at present, and you don’t offer any practical solutions to their predicament. It might be a raw deal for men but it seems reasonable that the child should have the first consideration, women the second, and men the third. I don’t think you’ve offered any reasons why the order should be any different. My only suggestion is to use condoms – and supply your sons with condoms and make sure they understand why they should use them.

  56. BillyJoe7 says:

    “Let’s see- a child ripped from a his mother’s arms while she is pleading with her life not to take him– the child wrestling mightily to be let go- the father watching helplessly surrounded by numerous large and obviously armed men… the neighbors and friends watching helplessly as their deepest wishes are ignored by a government that is supposed to protect their religious freedoms… knowing that these same people can take their children at anytime as well…”

    Is this supposed to be an argument?
    All I see is an anecdote which might not even be real.
    On top of that, it’s not even relevant – unless you think a terminally ill child can “wrestle mightily to be let go”.

  57. BillyJoe7 says:

    Remove the puff pastry and this is what we have left as an argument from some responders here…

    My political ideology demands that children must die for their parents’ religious beliefs.

    I do wonder at the mental gymnastics required to arrive at and maintain such an obviously incorrect conclusion. Quite frankly, I’m absolutely appalled that we should even need to refute this position.

  58. Martin Lewitt says:

    BillyJoe7, if you don’t know how people arrive at such an incorrect conclusion, who does, after all it was your who arrived at it? So instead of your strawman, lets try my statement:

    My gentlemanly forbearance doesn’t demand that something be done about children who may or may not die because of their parents behavior or beliefs, whether it is fatigued driving, purchasing a swimming pool, using seat belts, eschewing vaccination, going vegan, fervently praying, smoking, traveling to areas with endemic diseases, walking in the woods, etc.

  59. Bruce says:


    I think BillyJoe’s conclusion is quite valid despite your attempt to conflate your stance with irrelevant information:

    You state in your very revealing statement that you do not demand something be done for a child who may or may not die due to a parent’s belief.
    BillyJoe stated that your ideology demands that children must die from their parents’ religious belief.
    In the case that a child will die unless they get a treatment that is not “allowed” by a religious belief, you would not demand that something be done for the child, which is stating that the child must die.

    Very basically: If a child may die (logically there are cases when a child will die) because of a religious belief, you demand no action be taken and that the child must die because of their parent’s belief.

  60. Kawarthajon says:

    Bill Openthalt: “I wasn’t making an argument, simply pointing out that there is a third way. And from direct experience within my circle of friends, I can assure you there are people who do “submit to the will of god” when confronted with the choice between allowing treatment they think incompatible with their religion, or the death of a child or spouse. They are distraught and they suffer, but this does not affect their faith.”

    You may be right, but the parents in this situation were told by someone in a position of influence and authority that faith healing would work, so I doubt that they wanted their children to die. They actually wanted their children to be healed by God. They weren’t actively sacrificing their children to God (which has happened in human history).

    I acknowledge that there are always extremists (i.e. suicide bombers, samurai committing sepuku) who would gladly sacrifice themselves and others if they think it is part of God’s plan, but the vast majority of religious people do whatever they can to preserve life – as an example some religious people, even when their family members are vegetables and the doctors are recommending pulling the plug, still want that person alive. I don’t claim to understand that mindset either.

  61. sonic says:

    Dr. N. is right about many things in this post.
    I’m questioning the premise that the ‘duty’ of the government to protect the child is greater then the ‘duty’ to allow them to practice their religion.
    I’m not sure the ‘duty’ to protect the child is spelled out anywhere- in fact the only legal ruling I’ve seen thus far indicates there is no ‘duty’ to protect the child- I’m pretty sure the duty to the religious practice is spelled out.

    The situation would be different if either the mother, the father, or the child actually was asking for assistance. But they are not. In this case, the parents aren’t violating any laws. It is those who wish to take the child that are in disagreement with the law and are trying to change it.
    Why don’t those trying to change the law just move?

    I’m not sure I’m getting you here-
    it is possible that what I’m quoting is meant to be more narrow than what I’m making, but your argument lacks a specific and includes something a bit illogical–

    Yes, there are laws designed to protect the citizens. There are laws that give tax breaks for specific activities too.
    I’m not sure the existence of the law implies an underlying duty.

    To what I said above I would add-
    The laws where I live aren’t the same as the laws where these people live aren’t the same as the laws where you live…
    Let’s keep it that way.

    you seem to think it is a political philosophy that gets in the way of your using armed men to take a child from his mother and father against the will of the child and the mother and the father so that you can do things to the child that the parents and the child have begged you not to do.
    What political philosophy would you interject to stop me from doing that to your kids?

    My political ideology demands that parents be allowed to protect their children from people who want to do things to them they don’t want done.

    It seems your philosophy demands armed men take children away from parents so that the children can have things done to them that neither the parents or the children want done.

    How’s that framing?

  62. tmac57 says:

    sonic- If a child will almost certainly die (think sepsis from an appendix about to burst),but that child doesn’t or can’t understand the consequences of no treatment,and by instinct wants to stay with mommy,that child cannot make an informed decision,but almost certainly would not want to die either.
    But you come down on the side of ‘too bad for the child,because the parent’s will is inviolate’.
    And to that point,if the parents have complete control over that child,then is there ANY limit to what they can do to, or withhold from that child? I think you can see the problem there.

  63. Factoidjunkie says:


    In this case the collective (the state) has decided the parents are violating a law – child neglect.

    Consider a different case. In this case the parents refuse medical attention in favor of prayer and purification. The purification portion is to place the child in warm blankets and a cage. They then place this cage out into a pleasant, flower strewn meadow. They leave the child there for three days and nights, all the while praying by its side. The child cries and moans – it is suffering and will likely die from a lack of water – but the parents believe this is part of the purification process. Four people pass by this scene – you, me, Dr. Novella, and a police officer. Which of us is morally bound to investigate and intercede on this scene? If your answer is that none, meaning the parents have absolute sovereignty over the child and the child’s continued life or death is in the hands of a deity and that prayerful supplication is superior to medical attention, then it would seem you favor any form of treatment that a religion proffers and society has no right to intervene.

    Have I understood your position?

  64. Martin Lewitt says:

    tmac57, By coincidence (perhaps rare, I don’t know), I happen to have survived an appendicitis attack without surgical treatment. I was lying in pain on my side in a fetal position for several hours, while my Mom, instead of praying, kept insisting I was sensitive to pain for fussing so much about a stomach ache, finally she too became alarmed and took me to the ER where they determined that it had resolved, I only had residual pain, and noted that if I had come in an hour or two earlier they would have operated. That wasn’t the end of it. Nearly 50 years later, imaging showed an unidentified mass in my abdomen, that could not be determined to be intestinal, urinary tract or other. I had surgery to remove it, it turned out to be a mucinous adenoma of the appendix. Apparently that attack had closed off my appendix with scare tissue preventing it from being imaged with contrast and it had continued generating mucous internally. Maybe appendicitis is not really a justification for a pre-emptive strike on a religious family?

  65. tmac57 says:

    Martin- I’m glad that you survived what could have very likely been a life threatening event.

    But instead of me trying to concoct scenarios that pose moral and ethical dilemmas,I will simply ask you the same question that I posed to sonic:
    Is there ANY limit to what a parent can do to, or withhold from their child? Do they have complete and absolute control over that child’s well being.

    Forget the religious element,that should not be a special case.

  66. Martin Lewitt says:

    tmac57, I oppose abortion, but I’m definitely pro-choice, because I don’t see a compelling state interest in the issue, it is difficult to know where to draw lines. It is hard to not want to intervene if you are aware of intentional infliction of pain or injury. But the greater threat seems to be abuses by Child Protective Services, where there is no longer a presumption of innocence. I guess I would intervene to prevent such abuse if I was aware of it, if the cost and risk to me were not too high, but I would not relax any of the limits and standards we impose on government to prevent it. I’m not willing to sacrifice any freedom to save someone else’s child from its parent, we have already exchanged too much liberty for paternalistic protectionism.

  67. BillyJoe7 says:

    Martin Lewitt,

    You are an object case. The mental gymnastics you are forced to perform above in a vain attempt to justify the obviously unjustifiable are actually painful for me to see. That you can’t see it simply astounds me. Blinded by political ideology. Remove the fluff pastry from your first response above (as Bruce has done for you) and you are left with exactly the summary I offered.

    You followed that with the absurd anecdote about your presumed spontaneously resolving appendicitis, as if that proves anything. It’s as irrelevant as sonic’s presumably made up anecdote. How on Earth can either of those anecdotes guide us as to how we should respond in the case of a child dying of sepsis due to a ruptured appendix as a result of its parents’ religious beliefs?

    “I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom to save someone else’s child from its parent”

    Blinded by political ideology.

  68. Martin Lewitt says:


    As the one who would act, the burden of justification is on you. I haven’t heard any proposals. I haven’t heard any reason the obligation to act stops at a border, nor a prioritization among other issues given scarce resources. I am willing to divert resources from the enforcement of any prescription drug laws to the enforcement of child abuse laws. It is intervention ab initio that is difficult to justify. Given the many evils the government is involved in it is easy the sacrifice a greater evil for a lesser evil.

  69. ccbowers says:

    I’m not sure I’m getting you here-
    it is possible that what I’m quoting is meant to be more narrow than what I’m making, but your argument lacks a specific and includes something a bit illogical”

    Perhaps I was not clear enough, but more likely that you do not understand the law you site. In law, “duty” means something quite specific- a legal obligation of action or behavior, and this gives a person the ability to bring legal action against another party by claiming that they were harmed when that “duty” was not met (i.e. they failed to meet their legal obligations to prevent the harm).

    Duty also has a more general meaning, and is the meaning that Steve was using in his discussion of this post. It is confusing because the legal use of the term is much more narrow and specific than the way that most people use it, and it may be that he did not realize this when he wrote this. As a result, your argument ends up having an equivocation component since there are 2 meanings of duty being used, which leads to an incorrect conclusion, IMO.

  70. steve12 says:

    “you seem to think it is a political philosophy that gets in the way of your using armed men to take a child from his mother and father against the will of the child and the mother and the father so that you can do things to the child that the parents and the child have begged you not to do.
    What political philosophy would you interject to stop me from doing that to your kids?”

    I’ll be a little less oblique…

    Libertarians take what should be guiding principles – ideals that should always be considered – and turn them into dogmatic rules that must always be followed, results be damned. But reality is too messy for this sort of nonsense. Outcomes matter.

    And when those results go bad, they refuse to acknowledge it. They explain away the failures of libertarianism by talking about how great the philosophy (i.e., the model) is, and the the real problem is the model isn’t being followed enough. This happens in econ a bit as well. (I won’t get into the morality play portion of it).

    But this is backward. When your model doesn’t work as you predicted, your model is off. Which is OK, all models are off ipso facto of what models are. But libertarians think their model of how things should work trumps the actual reality of how things do/can work. The result of all this pseudo-intellectualization of human affairs is silly discussions about whether letting children die while we knowingly watch is OK. It isn’t.

    And as for the specific instance that you talk about above, you’re not shaming me. YES. I, am willing to go into someone’s house and take those kids. To save their life? Yes. Absolutely and w/o hesitation. If you want to kill your kids, you just made your business MY business, and therefore everyone’s business. And I am fine with an elected gov’t official – armed and trained men and women – representing ME and GETTING THOSE KIDS.

  71. sonic says:

    tmac57- Factoidjunkie-

    First a joke–
    I don’t think many parents have total control over their child’s lives– if they did I would expect to see many more children healthy, wealthy, and wise…

    In this case-
    The government (in the USA) has a responsibility to the citizenry to insure they can practice their religion freely. I know that there are other places where this is not the case, but it is one of the basic tenets that the USA government is founded on.

    According to the post, the parents are not breaking any law and the people who want the child are attempting to circumvent or re-write the law.

    I don’t think the government (in the USA) has the responsibility to force anyone to have medical treatment against his will. I know the government has done such programs- forced sterilization and so forth, but I think that was a mistake– not the manifestation of a deeper duty to the populace.

    I’m fairly certain the government has no duty to help someone who doesn’t want it.
    Perhaps it is best to offer help to those you think could benefit and allow those who don’t want the help to carry on.
    I have intervened in situations where a parent was abusing a child– and in one case the parent tried to kill me– it isn’t that I think it OK for the parent to abuse a child, I’m just questioning the need for government intervention.

    Here is a problem I’m having–
    I don’t think it is good policy to have government agents take children from parents, despite protest from the parents and child, so the agent can preform actions on the child that the parents and child have both specifically requested not be done.

    In this case what???
    The ends justifies the means?

  72. sonic says:

    I’m agreeing with you except that-
    Dr. N. is demanding a law be changed because the state has a ‘duty’.
    But the state has no duty to change the law because Dr. N. is not using the legal definition– he is asserting a moral the ‘state’ must follow- a moral that doesn’t exist.

    The actual duty the state has is to protect the right to freely practice one’s religion- something I think the parents and child are asking for here.
    That’s the proper conclusion IMO.

    I agree with your assessment of some of the ‘libertarian’ balderdash.

    BTW– I think our disagreement actually starts with ‘freewill’ and this is a manifestation of our probable disagreement about the existence (or importance) of such.

    So what political philosophy would you interject to stop me from taking your children so that I can preform acts on them that both you and they have begged me not to preform?
    Or do you see this as something you would do to others– but not vice versa?

  73. Bill Openthalt says:

    Sonic —

    Children are not the property of the parents. (A specific) Religion is no longer the basis of morality in our western societies. Freedom of religion means that some of the moral principles of the universalist religions (supposedly coming directly from their god) are abrogated by the laws of the land. Freedom of religion does not mean that individuals can invoke religion to justify actions that are contrary to the law. One cannot invoke religion to justify FGM (and, hopefully, pretty soon MGM), polygamy, child marriages, etc.

    Neither can one use religion to withhold competent medical care from the sick – be they adults or children. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t like it, go live in a theocracy.

  74. BillyJoe7 says:

    Martin Lewitt,

    “As the one who would act, the burden of justification is on you”

    You think the burden is on me to justify intervening when a child is about to die as a result of its parents’ religious beliefs? A rational assessment of this situation – devoid of political and relgious dogma – is that you should intervene when someone is going to die as a result of someone else’s religious beliefs, including when that person is the parent. When your political dogma disagrees with this obvious
    and rational conclusion, then I think the burden is on you to justify your political dogma.

  75. BillyJoe7 says:


    “The actual duty the state has is to protect the right to freely practice one’s religion…”

    That is you’re interpretation of what the state’s duty is but, setting aside whether or not your interpretation is correct, do you agree with this. Do you think the state should protect the right to freely practice one’s religion? If so, do you think this should include FGM? Do you think it should include allowing a child to suffer severe pain and die of a treatable medical illness?

    “…something I think the parents and child are asking for here”

    Really? Do you have an age limit below which you would consider that the child does not have the capacity to align itself with its parents religious beliefs and die for them?

  76. Kawarthajon says:


    Even in Idaho (where these children died because of their parents’ neglectful care), the state authorities have a responsibility, as laid out by federal and state laws, to protect children. This is the case, whether you like it or not. All states have the same responsibilities (although different systems to carry out their responsibilities), as do the authorities in other western nations. You cannot, as a parent, neglect or harm a child without consequences. This includes medical neglect.

    Taken from the Idaho Child Protection Manual (http://www.isc.idaho.gov/cp/manual/Idaho_CP_Manual-3rd_Edition.pdf):

    “Examples of threats to a child or children that fall within Priority I Guidelines include:
    • Death of a child
    • Life-threatening physical abuse or physical or medical neglect
    • Physical abuse of a child who is under 7 years of age
    • Sexual abuse if the alleged offender has immediate access to the child
    • Infant and/or mother testing positive for drugs at birth
    • Preservation of information if there is a risk that the family is leaving the area”

    Yes, these parents have neglected to get appropriate medical care for their children. Their children died as a result. The state has the authority to intervene, whether you like it or not.

  77. sonic says:

    Bill Openthalt-
    Why is it that Dr. N. is demanding the law be changed?
    Oh, because the law says what these people are doing is legal.
    I guess you are wrong about the law.
    So, given your apparent logic–
    Where are you planning to move?

    And– Why would I want to live in a theocracy? I’m for freedom of religion. Kinda opposites. I don’t even want to force people to accept ‘help’ they don’t want- much less a religion.

    Yes, the state where I live has the duty to protect the right to practice one’s religion freely.
    It’s in the basic document that forms the government– we call it the ‘constitution’. It’s in a section called ‘the bill of rights’.

    Apparently the parents and child are steadfast in this decision. I’m assuming the child has been available to talk to people other than his parents– if not, then I would see to it that he be allowed to speak.
    I realize it is a big decision to put on a child, if the child and parents agree– (you might note that the child’s religious affiliation is considered in section 16-1627 that I quote below)–I would respect that, because I would hope to have the same level of autonomy granted to me.

    So, no, I don’t think the kid should die, but I’m willing to allow he and his parents the choice. Things are so messy when you allow others to act freely.
    But worth it IMHO.

  78. sonic says:

    From the definition of ‘neglected’–
    “a. … however, no child whose parent or guardian chooses for such child treatment by prayers through spiritual means alone in lieu of medical treatment shall be deemed for that reason alone to be neglected or lack parental care necessary for his health and well-being, but this subsection shall not prevent the court from acting pursuant to section 16-1627, Idaho Code…”

    You can read section 16-1627 here–
    (3) In making its order under subsection (1) of this section, the court shall take into consideration any treatment being given the child by prayer through spiritual means alone, if the child or his parent, guardian or legal custodian are adherents of a bona fide religious denomination that relies exclusively on this form of treatment in lieu of medical treatment.

    Sorry- the law is with the parents as the post by Dr. N. explained.

  79. BBBlue says:


    You missed the qualifier “women who think of late-term abortion as a mere inconvenience”. I have talked to women who consider abortion to be something akin to a bowel movement. Never said they represented all women, but my guess is that there are more of them than those who would let their child die based on religious beliefs. Then there are people like Dr. Gosnell who, I think it is safe to say, had a certain level of disrespect towards both unborn life and his patients. I don’t think religion can be blamed for those callous attitudes toward humans, both living and unborn, and those attitudes are disturbing to me; they should not be defended any more than believers should be defended for allowing a life to expire.

    My original point was that I detect a certain amount of hypocrisy in those who rage against believers of faith healing but see absolutely no connection to the respect for life argument when it comes to the secular mantra for abortion, particularly, late-term abortions.

  80. Kawarthajon says:

    Sonic, I already commented that this exemption is ridiculous. I was just indicating that the state does have the authority to intervene, which you were arguing against.

  81. Bruce says:


    Thank you for qualifying that, I think I can see your point.

  82. BillyJoe7 says:


    Your evasion of my specific questions is interesting.
    Apparently your ideology cannot cope with them.

    How do you define religious freedom in the following contexts…
    – FGM.
    – Traumatic death of a 12 year old bride on her wedding night.
    – Agonising death over two years of a 12 year old girl from bone cancer treated with nothing but prayer.

    At what age do you consider a child capable of making a decision about religion, life and death?

    How would you go about determining the wishes of a child dying of sepsis from a ruptured appendix being treated by her parents with nothing but prayer?

  83. steve12 says:

    I had Sonic pegged as a lbertarian, which I think is partially true.

    But I think BillyJoe7 (some time ago) put it best: he is a contrarian.

  84. steve12 says:

    “Given the many evils the government is involved in it is easy the sacrifice a greater evil for a lesser evil.”

    What greater evil is there than not just willfully – but statutorily – killing a child?

    This is a much better example of libertarian “thinking” run amok than anything I pointed out above. Is there any more broken model of how humans should interact than one that dictates that that allowing parents to kill their own kids has to be allowed because the alternative limits individual rights?

    And before you come back with trite “Where do you draw the line?” fallacy of the beard nonsense argument, remember this:

    Wherever you draw that line, there is never any ambiguity which side of the line killing a child via neglect ends up on. So it’s not a relevant argument.

  85. Bill Openthalt says:

    Sonic —

    You’re right, in Idaho people can let their children die if they belong to a “bona fide” religion that (contrary to all evidence) relies on prayer for healing. Spuds have more compassion than Idaho lawmakers, it would seem, but as I don’t live there, I don’t need to move. More importantly, you can move there instead of having to settle for Iran or Saudi-Arabia 🙂 .

  86. sonic says:

    Would you please acknowledge that the parents are not doing anything illegal and that the state does not have the authority to take the child in this case?

    Freedom of religion here in the USA might be defined this way–

    “The right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to choose religious practices or to abstain from any of those practices without government intervention.”

    It seems the parents choose for the child until the child starts to speak for himself– the age that occurs seems to me to be quite variable, so I can’t give an age there.
    (Parents seem to make decisions for some kids until they are 3 or 4, others the parents run their lives until about 50 or 60– whatever).

    It is difficult to answer your questions more specifically than that– I don’t know of any religious practice “FGM”, and I don’t know how to tell what the other examples are about.
    Perhaps you could be more specific– like is there a religion where they give you bone cancer and then force you to live for two years in horrible pain? Let me guess- if you don’t make it the whole two years it’s because you are unworthy?

    Man, I’m glad I don’t have to recruit for that bunch…

    Yes- I’d allow someone to do that, but I’m guessing you made that up because I doubt they would know how to cause bone cancer specifically.

    BillyJoe7 was right- I’ve got contrarian tendencies.
    I might be a libertarian, but they have too many rules. 🙂

    Suppose the treatment works 10% of the time– do we take the child?
    How about 5%? 1%? experimental treatments?
    Suppose the child dies even though the treatment success is 90%.
    Do the parents get to sue the doctor for wrongful death?

    Oh, and you thought this was a black-and-white thing.

    Bill Openthalt-
    I do not belong to any religion, so I don’t belong to the religion of these people.
    I don’t agree with what they are doing– I agree with their right to do it.
    I’m suggesting the law doesn’t need to change.

  87. sonic says:

    How about this–
    I think we agree it is OK for a grown person to say “No thank-you” to offered help when that person isn’t a danger to anyone else. We allow people to tell doctors- “Let me die,” for example.

    But it is difficult to know in the case of a child– he may not be old enough to make decisions… we could ask- “What would this child’s decision be if he were old enough?”
    Certainly it might be the same as his parents– often that is the case.
    But not always—

    Perhaps if we knew the odds of what the child’s decision would be given he were old enough– this could shed light on how much impetus we have to over-ride the parent’s decisions.

    I know people who don’t take medical care- and neither do the parents or grand-parents…

    I think you assume too much when you decide for the child.
    And so do I.
    And so do the parents.
    And so would any court.

    And that’s where consequentialism fails– when it is impossible to calculate the consequences.
    Sometimes you just gotta go with the policy.

    I like the policy of freedom of religion- perhaps because I don’t belong to any religion.
    And religious intolerance leads to such messy body counts. Seriously- do you know what happened during the 20th century?

  88. BillyJoe7 says:

    “I think you assume too much when you decide for the child”

    Oh, yes, killer argument, next time I see a child dying in agony of sepsis from a ruptured appendix because it’s parents are using prayer as the only treatment, I’m going to walk right on by.

  89. sonic says:

    Why on earth would you do that?
    Don’t you understand the difference between a person trying to help someone (and perhaps being told to ‘buzz off’) and an ‘overwhelming force’ of government agents showing up demanding compliance?

  90. Factoidjunkie says:

    It seems to me, from reading all the posts, that your logic suggests that most, to perhaps all, other political or legal thinking by the state outside the protection of religion and some extreme version of individual liberty is detrimental to liberty. You argue you live in a state that provides for the religious freedom argument you propose, but nearly all other arguments from this same state concerning other considerations you reject.

    Perhaps no level of society, outside possibly your version of a theocracy, is ever justified. Thanks for the slightly entertaining sloppy silopsism. Off to better things.

  91. steve12 says:

    “…an ‘overwhelming force’ of government agents showing up demanding compliance?”

    It’s funny that you point this out as the “doomsday” scenario, when this is exactly how I want parents who are putting their kids’ lives at risk to be treated. I couldn’t give a shit as to why they’re doing it – immaterial.

    Honestly, I would like to see that same extended to animals. I’m tired of those in positions of power having the “freedom” to oppress and kill. Time to step up as a society and demand (via our democratically elected governments) that the abused and oppressed get a whiff of some of these precious Freedoms, like the freedom to, ya know, breathe. I can’t help but notice that only a small segment of the population has the prerogative to realize many of these Freedoms. I wonder why that is…..

  92. steve12 says:

    “Suppose the treatment works 10% of the time– do we take the child?
    How about 5%? 1%? experimental treatments?
    Suppose the child dies even though the treatment success is 90%.
    Do the parents get to sue the doctor for wrongful death?”

    Beside the point. You’re arguing that if the treatment works 100% of the time, the state still has no right to intervene, so this is irrelevant. Remember: I never stated that there was no continuum on which the law must draw a line, I simply said that for cases where the outcomes are all but known there is no question as to what side of the line they sit. But again, this is meaningless because your argument is that the state NEVER has this right.

    How about this : God started talking to me last night. He told me that my wife would give birth to the FSM (yes, I’m going there). But, every baby she had that was NOT an FSM, I had to kill, and then we had to try again. Let’s assume that I am quite sincere.

    Can the state take those babies away?

  93. steve12 says:

    And not that it needs to be said, but drafting this law would be exceedingly difficult and require great care. I am not advocating that children be removed from their parent for missing dental cleanings.

    But anyone who uses examples like this to say that we can’t make laws are simply engaging in continuum fallacy thinking. A continuum of neglect can be made from missing a dental cleaning to refusing emergency surgery. That they can be put on a continuum together does not meant that they are the same.

    What is more ridiculous: claiming that there is no distinction between the two, or having the placement of the line be locally inexact?

  94. BillyJoe7 says:


    “Don’t you understand the difference between a person trying to help someone (and perhaps being told to ‘buzz off’) and an ‘overwhelming force’ of government agents showing up demanding compliance?”

    Of course.
    In the first case, the child would continue to die in agony.
    In the second case, the child would at least have its pain relieved and have a chance at survival.
    Of course, the way I would help that child – just in case you really did think I would just walk on by – would be to inform the police.

    “an ‘overwhelming force’ of government agents showing up demanding compliance”

    Oh, I think a couple of police officers would do just fine.

  95. BillyJoe7 says:

    BTW, how dare you suggest I act to restrict the religious freedom of that child’s parents.

  96. sonic says:

    A theocracy? where does that come from? that is exactly the opposite state than I’m talking about.
    It appears you have misread most everything I wrote.
    Hopefully we will communicate better in the future.

    You don’t like where I draw the line, but when asked, you refuse to state where you would. I realize that any line will have a problem, and that I open myself to the criticism by stating I believe the USA constitution draws the line correctly (and that the law in Idaho is a reflection of that)– but how can we have a conversation unless you tell me a better line?
    Look- I know what I’m advocating is messy and has problems.

    I have no idea what FSM means.

    Just so you know–
    at this point it seems you are advocating that children (and animals?) be taken from their caretakers if the interaction between child (or animal) and caretaker is upsetting to you.
    I’m almost positive that isn’t your actual view– but that’s all I’ve got so far.

    Perhaps that helps explain why I am yet to be moved by the arguments.

    Ah- thank-you.
    Where I live it usually takes hours for the police to show up.
    Perhaps that helps explain at least some of our differences on this.

    A kid told me her mother was abusing her. I thought it couldn’t be- the mother wasn’t the nicest person on earth, but what the kid described sounded like ritualistic torture– weird, ya know?
    Anyway, the authority in this case was the mother’s brother-in-law (5th generation policeman), so I figured the kid had talked to him…
    One day I heard it in the other room- I wouldn’t have known what was going on if the kid hadn’t told me.
    I went into the room and got between the mother and kid.
    The mother tried to kill me.
    all is well- the mother and I got to become quite friendly. (she didn’t even know what was going on– she just had these black-outs or whatever and somehow once she saw it- it stopped).
    I mention this because if you are going to intervene- beware.

    (I still get an adrenaline rush recalling the mother coming after me with a fireplace poker– ah, so much fun.)

    I’m not saying you need to restrict the parents religious freedom- I’m saying you can talk to them in a rational manner.
    Rationality doesn’t always work– so be it.

    Allowing police to take children from parents has downsides too–
    Where do you draw the line?- if a treatment works 25% of the time?

  97. BillyJoe7 says:


    I’m going to get you address this question if it kills me.

    “I’m not saying you need to restrict the parents religious freedom
    I’m saying you can talk to them in a rational manner.
    Rationality doesn’t always work– so be it.”

    And if that doesn’t work?
    Are you going to restrict the parents religious freedom now?
    Three more hours and that child is going to be moribund.
    What are you going to do?

  98. sonic says:

    I’ll answer your question- but first– (warning, I’ve had too much coffee, but i think you might enjoy some of this)-

    You know– The idea that one should weigh the possibility the child will grow up to have the same belief– I thought that was pretty good. You got to admit, that one might fly. Perhaps a formula- (probability of successful treatment) times (probability child will leave the sect) = degree of certainty we should act against parents.
    I like that.


    It seems there a number of states considering repealing any ‘prayer’ exemptions and it appears there are a few organizations lobbying for that and a number of cases that have gone through the courts.

    Check this out– the highest estimate I can find is that there are between 12 and 24 deaths from ‘faith healing’ each year.

    There are millions of dollars and 1000’s of man hours being spent to overturn these exemptions. How many children could be saved using resources like that?
    12- or closer to 12,000? or even 12 million?

    I’m not sure the sect is spreading– Do you want to try to recruit for them? Oh- aren’t you the guys who watch children die instead of getting medical care?
    If you take the religion out of it, it makes no sense to spend so much resource on such a small problem. This is a highly irrational use of resources.
    Might be considered a form of child neglect- don’t you agree? 🙂

    Oh- let’s try this–
    the carbon footprint of the effort to repeal these exemptions is such that it will cause more deaths than the exemptions do. (Of course you know I don’t believe that– but I’m thinking you might fall for it. What do you think?) 🙂

    Whoa- I should not have had that second cup of coffee. But I did give warning- right?

    Now, to your question answered in my usual round about manner–

    The other day I was at the main shopping mall when a fight started. I starting yelling “STOP” and jumped in between the fighters and pushed them apart.
    Some of the people who witnessed it told me I was amazing or brave. A few said I was an idiot- what if they had pulled a knife?

    I was not offended by either comment.
    I have no idea why I did that, and I don’t know if I will do that next time I see it.

    The answer to your question- “I have no idea what I would do.”

  99. SteveA says:


    The first part of your argument is a false dichotomy.

    The second part is a self-aggrandising, unverifiable anecdote that accomplishes nothing.

  100. steve12 says:

    OK Sonic. YOu wanna ignore most of what I say and we’ll play it your way:


    As I said, a law like this would be very complicated and take 100s if not 1000s of hours to make, but you’re continuing to dodge and and hide behind fallacy of the beard nonsense. So here goes:

    10% chance the procedure works – armed gov’t agents take the kids. bye bye. 9%, kill ’em if you got ’em. Horrible and crude, but 100 x better than your system.

    fsm = flying spighetti monster.And don’t go dodging my Q by saying FSM isn’t sincere. I’m posing the hypothetical, and they are sincere.

    Now, answer my Q:

    May I serially strangle to death my offspring until I get a FSM?

  101. steve12 says:

    “Now, to your question answered in my usual round about manner–”


  102. sonic says:

    I think the first part is an attempt to make a formula that would produce a ‘certainty of action’ in these cases.

    The next part is a false dichotomy to the extent that funds to help children with medical needs are limitless.

    The last bit was an answer to BillyJoe7- he said he was going to get it or die trying.
    So I thought I’d give him the answer rather than watch him die. (didn’t cost much- I saved a life for just a few pennies in electricity costs!)

    And you thought I was heartless… 🙂

  103. BillyJoe7 says:


    Don’t blame the coffee. You are always like this. Full of ideological BS that you are unable to justify when it comes to the nitty gritty of a real life example. FREEDOM OF RELIGION. NO GOVERNMENT INTERFEREMCE. But you have no idea what you would do in a situation where it’s just obvious what you should do. My friendly message to you – and I can’t help but see you as a friend – is to examine your goddamn prejudices. I mean, what use is your ideology if it fails you in such a simple and straightforward real life example such as this. A child is dying a horrible death but you are paralysed by “freedom of religion” and “no government interference”.

    That child with the burst appendix spent the last remaining hours of his life in agony before dying .The twelve year old girl took two years to die of her bone cancer with prayer being the only pain relief offered by her parents. I will spare you the details. The other twelve year old girl died of internal injuries inflicted by her fifty year old “husband”. Your “freedom of religion” and “no government interference” don’t stack up against this reality. I don’t want government interference where it is not needed, but there has to be some balance. Individuals acting alone can’t hope to resolve situations such as these however much you would like that to be true.

  104. sonic says:

    Thank-you for your concern. I like you too.
    But No worries.

    I think I have answered your question inappropriately- let me try again…
    (I made a stupid error on the other thread too– )

    If I see a person who needs medical attention, I call for an ambulance. I used to work in an emergency room- sometimes I can be helpful to a person injured (first aid and such).
    If a person tells me not to do anything- I probably won’t. If a parent tells me not to touch his child- I probably will respect that request.

    Now, the ambulance arrives and the parents tell the EMT’s to go away.

    Do we get guns out and take the kid?

    They say they would rather die following the religion than live in sin.
    In Idaho- and many other states- that will do, we leave it alone.
    There are millions of dollars being spent to change those laws and I’m guessing many of the states will change them.

    But we lose something very valuable if they do–
    People need an excuse to be left alone sometimes. “I don’t want your help– go away please” — a person needs to be able to say that. People have a thing about protecting kids despite themselves– I know I do, but even a kid needs to be able to say that at some point.
    “Please leave me alone,” has to be an allowable request- even when granting the request means death to the person making it.

    In the society I live in now, one of the best methods of getting someone to grant the request, “Leave me alone,” is to claim it’s a matter of ‘faith’.
    This is a workable method.

    You say you want to be left alone to practice your religious beliefs?
    And you’ll allow me the same?

    Perhaps I’m a bit nutty on this- but I consider the options–
    If I can’t say ‘no’ or ‘please leave me alone’ to the government– I live in a dictatorship.
    If I’m going to be able to say ‘no thank you- leave me alone’, then other people will be as well.

    There aren’t that many other reasons people are allowed to say ‘no’ to the government anymore.
    Democracy fails and a dictatorship takes its place because dictatorships are more efficient.
    I actually think the founders of this country would have argued allowing a few nut jobs to refuse medical care for their kids is a price worth paying to avoid losing such an important part of the right to say ‘no’.
    I would.

    Because the right for the parent to say no to the government for her child has to be protected too.

    Perhaps you can explain how I’m wrong about that.
    And try not to use either an emotional anecdote or the argument that the ‘ends justifies the means’.

    Good luck!

  105. BillyJoe7 says:


    The point is that it is not reasonable to hold “freedom of religion” and “no government interference” as absolute positions. You have almost acknowledged this with your “probably” qualification above and your willingness and readiness to step in yourself to help these children. All credit to you. So the question is: where is the dividing line? That can be a difficult question to answer, but that does not stop us from asking and answering the following questions: what will we definitely accept and what will we definitely not accept. In other words, forget about that (admittedly large) grey area for the time being.

    That is the purpose of my examples. To establish what you are willing to accept as reasonable incursions into your mantras of “freedom of religion” and “no government interference”.

    Firstly, I can see no reason why religion should have any higher consideration than any other considerations. People are free to practice their religion provided it does not harm others. If it does, I would expect the government to intervene.
    Secondly, there is an age limit below which a child cannot reasonably be expected to make decisions for itself. We may disagree on the exact age, and it will vary from child to child. But I think a reasonable consensus would be that children below the age of thirteen cannot make decisions for themselves.
    Thirdly, parents are the default deciders for their children. But there are obvious exceptions. For example, a drug addicted or mentally unstable parent would not be a good choice. A parent whose decisions for a child harms that child would not be a good choice.

    The decisions parents make for their child should be measured against a consensus as to what decisions are good and which are harmful for that child. Of course there is a wide margin as to what’s acceptable. But, despite this large grey area, there are decisions that are clearly not acceptable and that will require government interference so that the child will be protected. A child has a right to be protected against the harmful decisions of its parents. And I would say that that right far outweighs the right of parents to freedom of religion.

    So, unless you regard “freedom of religion” and “no government interference” as absolutes, there are situations where the government should interfere to protect the rights of children not to be harmed by decisions of parents based of their religious beliefs.

    You want to avoid “emotional” examples, but these examples demonstrate why absolute positions regarding “freedom of religion and “no government interference” are untenable. It’s only when you regard those positions as absolute that you have to twist your mind into accepting that the government must not interfere when, for example, parents allow their twelve year old daughter to die of bone cancer without recourse to potentially curative treatment and without recourse to pain relief.

    So, if your positions are absolute, I have nothing more to say to you.
    But, if your positions are not absolute, then I suggest you fight your battles elsewhere. Those three children are not in the grey area. By no stretch of the imagination. None of these children should have died – and died in the manner they did – on the altar of someone else’s religious or political beliefs.

  106. sonic says:

    Obviously this is something I’ve thought about– I’m hoping for a reasonable conversation– but I’m told I’m promoting a theocracy or some such.
    Clearly a number of the commenters have been talking to a straw man.

    But you persist. I like that about you.

    I agree- the freedom of religion is not absolute.
    I agree- there are times when the government can intervene between a parent and child.

    Consider the ‘formula for certainty’ I have been suggesting- an attempt to quantify when intervention makes sense and when it doesn’t. The formula has probabilities involved– not ‘absolutes’.

    I have attempted to discuss the ‘cost benefit’ of intervention in these specific cases, for example. Not pushing an ‘absolute’ position, but trying to see the actual cost and benefits of the different positions.
    This has been ignored.

    Let me give an example to illustrate some ‘grey’.
    Let’s agree that on the 13th birthday, we will accept the child’s answer to the question, ‘do you want a or b?’ Before the 13th birthday- he has no say.
    Starting at the age of 8, we ask the kid- ‘do you want a or b?’ once a week and every week he says ‘a’.
    Do we grab the child at 11:59 PM on the minute before his 13th birthday so that we don’t have to listen to his answer?
    How about an hour before midnight. The day before…
    Welcome to grey land.

    This is nasty- I’m sorry, but I have no choice–

    On the contrary- you keep telling the there is ‘no grey’ here and that I must agree with that.

    That is an absolutist position.

    Turnabout is fair play–

    If you will agree to drop your absolutist demand that there is ‘no grey’- and stop accusing me of that which you are so obviously doing- I’m thinking we could come to better understanding.

    But if you continue to make absolutist demands on me and demand I agree to the ‘no grey zone’ or whatever– I fear you will continue to allow your absolutism to color your thinking and you will continue to talk to the straw man you have erected in my place.

    Are you willing to drop your absolutist demands?

  107. BillyJoe7 says:


    I don’t mind continuing the conversation, but you accuse others of misrepresenting your position (I disagree – my reading is that they are suggesting that your position promotes a theocracy even if that is not what you intend), and then you immediately misrepresent mine.
    This is what you said I said:

    “On the contrary- you keep telling the there is ‘no grey’ here and that I must agree with that”

    Yet here is what I actually said:

    “In other words, forget about that (admittedly large) grey area for the time being”
    “But, despite this large grey area, there are decisions that are clearly not acceptable”
    “Those three children are not in the grey area”

    So please explain to me that despite three times accepting that there is a “grey area”, and in one case an “admittedly large” grey area, you come to the conclusion that I keep telling you there is no grey area here. I mean, how can someone be so clear and be so misinterpreted!


    Your second point in your wasted post is cost/benefit.
    Some people say that even if one child is saved it will all be worthwhile.
    I’m not one of those.
    We have to achieve more than that.
    But there IS more at stake here…

    There is an very influential group in the USA who would like nothing more than that their religion become the state religion and that their religious ideas permeate the state’s laws. They already have “one nation under god”, “In god we trust”, religious shield laws, prayers in parliament, presidential days of prayer, presidents invoking god at every opportunity. They also want the Ten Commandments, crosses, and christmas mangers on display on public land. They want creationism/intelligent taught in school science classes.

    You talk about freedom of religion, but I don’t want MY freedom restricted by SOMEONE ELSE’S religious beliefs. And I am not alone. We think it’s worthwhile to ensure that doesn’t happen by default. We don’t see it as a cost/benefit analysis. We see SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE as a fundamental principle that must be fought for at any cost.

  108. shchasm says:

    The laws of the United States have always trumped any superstition anyone has ever held (religious or not). I don’t understand why this became so complicated. Your religion may advocate beheading your spouse but if you’re going do it here you’re going to go to prison. It is against the law to neglect your children. If you choose not provide a basic necessity to your children, say like feeding them, then the state has the right to, and will, step in. I don’t see how basic medical attention is any different. It is intentional neglect.

  109. BillyJoe7 says:


    Sadly that is not the case.
    See the following link:


  110. sonic says:

    I’ll list some of the problems in my humerous way of framing things– I get to a possible solution- enjoy!

    You keep pointing to an absolute- these cases are black and white.

    I’m disagreeing. There aren’t any black and white cases.

    You are asserting that the government has a moral imperative to act based on these black and white cases– including the need to use force against one of its own citizens.

    I’m arguing against a theocracy. 🙂

    I am willing to discuss this matter in any terms other than absolute morals – long term consequences, cost/benefit, when an exemption might be granted (the treatment only works 1% of the time?), legal, constitutional…

    You talk of conspiracies to overthrow the government. 😉

    OK- enough of that.
    I’m pretty sure we are talking passed each other- and I think I have an idea why–
    I think we have a different idea of what the goal of government should be.

    Note– when my grandfather went to school they had a ‘quiet time’ at the start of school (prayer optional) and the kids carried loaded guns to school with them regularly- dangerous critters in the forest. “We knew not to shoot each other,” he tells me.
    Today no child is allowed ‘quiet time’ and no child is allowed to carry a loaded weapon to school.
    I’m not saying we need to go back to those laws or ways of doing things– but it is clear that the government has not been over run by the religious or by the gun lobbies since that time– despite what you may have read down under.

    I agree with your sentiment for the most part– if god tells you to steal- that’s fine, you get to go to jail. Your right to act ends before your actions effect another- religious freedom is freedom of thought for sure, but not any and all action.
    At the same time, it is important to note- the parents in Idaho are not breaking any law- it is clear from the post this is a call to change the law- not a call to enforce an existing law.

    Let’s take the religion out for a moment-

    Would you agree that it’s OK for an older person to be allowed to refuse treatments she doesn’t want for whatever reason?
    Would you consider the possibility that if the child were old enough, she would make the same decision her parents are?
    Would it matter?

  111. shchasm says:

    Yes, of course it would matter. If the child were old enough there’s a strong chance the subject can no longer be classified as a child. Parents make informed decisions for children because children simply can’t make informed decisions. So if you could prove that a child has the mental capacity to understand the treatment they’re denying can ultimately put their life in jeopardy (they barely know they’re alive let alone understand what it means to die) then by all means, allow them to make that decision. Adults refuse life saving treatments all of the time unless they’re mentally deficient, then once again the state steps in.

  112. sonic says:

    If you are willing to take into account what the child might do given reaching the age of consent, then it is possible to apply my formula for ‘certainty of being correct’:

    (probability of treatment working) times (probability the child will grow up to disagree with parents on this) = probability we are making the correct choice by taking the child.

    An example– If the treatment works 80% and we are 75% sure the child will grow up to disagree with what the parents are doing– we will be correct to take the child 60% of the time. Go for it.
    On the other hand, if the chance the treatment will work is less than 50%, we should probably leave the kid be. Or if the probability the kid will end up agreeing with the parents on this is greater than 50%, we should probably let him be.

    Notice- this has nothing to do with religion at this point.

    I do think the formula a bit minimalist- no doubt other factors could come into play in some situations- but I think these two factors are the most important here and I think this is the most rational way of thinking about it- what do you think about that?

  113. shchasm says:

    What about the probability of the child dying from the disease? I believe when you factor that in, all other probabities become relatively meaningless. As far as guessing what decision a child will make in the future as a well informed adult -its just that, a guess, especially when it comes to indoctrination. We’re not talking about elective surgery here and a 20% of success doesn’t look all that bad when there’s a 100% chance of mortality with no intervention.

  114. sonic says:

    I assumed a 100% chance of death for the child without treatment– otherwise-
    (Probability child dies without treatment) x (probability treatment works) x (probability child would make the same choice the parents are making).

    You make a good point- these factors might be considered to have different weights.
    You seem to give all the weight to just one of the factors–

    So if the child has a 100% chance of death- we take the child to try treatments that have .001% chance of working- on a child that we are 99% certain will reject the treatments in 30 minutes when he becomes ‘of age’ to make the decision for himself?

    Based on that I think you over weight that one factor.

    There could be a weighting system- I’m leaning toward more equal weights myself, but that might not be right. I’m rejecting 100% weight on any one factor, though.

    You are right- this isn’t elective surgery- we are talking about a situation where the legal guardians are telling you not to touch the kid, and the kid is demanding to be left alone as well.

    Unelective surgery? Election rescinded surgery? Anti-elective surgery? Surgery preformed against the will of the patient and those entrusted to care for him?…

    Not elective surgery for sure. 🙂

  115. BillyJoe7 says:


    “There aren’t any black and white cases”

    There clearly are.

    The six year old boy with a ruptured appendix treated with nothing but prayer, is dying in agony. He has no capacity to understand his predicament, no capacity to understand his parents religious beliefs, no capacity to make any decision at all regarding religion, life and death. That child should not die in agony because of his parents religious beliefs. That child’s pain should be treated and his appendix removed so that his life can be saved. That IS a black and white case. No other decision is possible by a reasonable person. If you don’t agree, so much the worse for you. Join the parents at the child’s funeral.

    “the government has not been over run by the religious…”

    Did I make such a claim?
    My claim was that there are religious people who would like nothing better than that their religion be the state religion and that their religious dogma be inserted into the state’s laws. I gave you many examples of where they have been successful. That fact that they have not had more success is a tribute to the eternal vigilance of those who don’t want their freedom restrained by the religious beliefs of others. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
    No religious shield laws.

    “If the treatment works 80% and we are 75% sure the child will grow up to disagree with what the parents are doing– we will be correct to take the child 60% of the time. Go for it”

    Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound?
    You are computing the life and death of a child when you should just damn well shut up and act. Call an ambulance. Call the police. Call the local member. Make sure that child’s pain is treated, his appendix removed and his life saved. You can have no idea what that child’s future beliefs will be. And it’s not even relevant.

    “and the kid is demanding to be left alone as well”

    Pull the other one.
    That’s just a bit of ad hocery to shoehorn the anecdote into your narrative.
    What child dying in agony wants to be “left alone”? That child will be begging you to relieve his pain and to save his life. That child will be grateful when you have done so. Even the child’s parents are likely to thank you for doing something they wished someone would do that they couldn’t do themselves. If you don’t think so, read some of the stories of the children and parents involved in these situations. The link I gave shchasm above is from a website started by a parent who let her child die in agony and who wants to ensure that no other parents finds themselves in the same predicament. The twelve year old girl begged for relief from her pain. Someone finally did the decent thing and acted to stop the insanity, though it was too late to save her life.

    “There could be a weighting system- I’m leaning toward more equal weights myself, but that might not be right. I’m rejecting 100% weight on any one factor, though”

    The only weight that should be applied is to the neck of idiotic ideas such as these.
    Get a grip, sonic.

  116. sonic says:

    Allow me to quote you-

    “So, if your positions are absolute, I have nothing more to say to you.
But, if your positions are not absolute, then I suggest you fight your battles elsewhere. Those three children are not in the grey area. By no stretch of the imagination….”

    Would you apply your own principle to yourself?
    I didn’t think so.

    Notice how this absolutism has blinded you–
    You say the child is begging for assistance?
    I agree- take the child if the intervention is likely to work– in fact, in every case I have said that if the child has given any indication he would disagree with his parents on this- take the child.
    I believe proper use of the formula I’m trying to hash out would give that answer if properly applied (Probability the child would disagree with parents)=1 implies the only aspect of the decision is ‘will our intervention work’?- in fact, if the formula doesn’t give that answer, then it needs to be reworked.

    It is clear you are not basing your statements on what I have actually said, or the principles you yourself demand of others.

    I probably gripped the wrong thing- didn’t I?

  117. steve12 says:

    Sonic: dod you answer this somewhere along the way? I cannot find it.

    “May I serially strangle to death my offspring until I get a FSM?”

  118. BillyJoe7 says:


    There is a spectrum.
    In the middle there is a large grey area.
    At one end there is a fully informed adult who chooses to die.
    We accept his right to die.
    At the other end there is a child dying of a ruptured appendix.
    We save his life.

    Please show me the absolutism of which you keep accusing me.

  119. sonic says:

    I’m using this definition of ‘absolutism’
    “theory of objective values: a philosophical theory in which values such as
    truth or morality are absolute and not conditional upon human perception
    something absolute: a standard, principle, or theory that is absolute”

    (quoted from ‘bing’ dictionary).

    The New World Encyclopedia has an article about this you might like as well.
    … “there are moral rules that apply to all people, including those who do not acknowledge these principles but live their lives in accordance with other, false, principles. Moral absolutism in this sense is committed to the existence of universal moral principles and for this reason is sometimes called universalism.”…

    You demand that this case or that is ‘black an white’ which implies a moral certitude that must come from some correct absolute- while maintaining any other consideration to be false.


  120. sonic says:

    I told you- I didn’t know what FSM means.
    But I think I do now. FSM= flying spaghetti monster- right? (the rest of this is based on that assumption.)

    I see we are talking about two different things here – you are talking about actively killing a person, I’m discussing the right to refuse treatment.

    This problem comes up in hospitals.

    When I worked in the hospital, there were people who really did want to die– they couldn’t move and they felt awful most of the time and the best prognosis was more of the same… and they just wanted to die. I worked with quite a few people like that.
    We did have a DNR option (no treatment), but we were not allowed to take positive steps to kill.

    You might want to check my reply to shchasm where I agree that ‘freedom of religion’ has to do with thought, not any and all action.
    Perhaps that would help clear up your question further.

    You might check the formula I’ve given for cases where the parent and child are asking not to be treated-
    (Probability the treatment works) x (the probability the child will disagree with the parents given the child is of age) = certainty of intervention.
    shchasm wanted to include (probability child dies without treatment)- something the earlier formula assumed was 100%- I have offered the idea there could be different weightings on the factors.

    Or perhaps you would prefer to lash out at that straw man one more time instead.

  121. steve12 says:

    “Perhaps that would help clear up your question further.”

    Not in the least. But then again, you purposefully didn’t answer the question and wrote a LOT of stuff that is not germane in ANY way without submitting a yes or no to the Q. Why do you do this?

    “Or perhaps you would prefer to lash out at that straw man one more time instead.”

    How can a question be a straw man?

    Please answer:
    Can I lawfully strangle my baby right after it’s born if I have a sincere religious reason for doing so? Yes or No?

  122. steve12 says:

    Another post is needed because this is so crazy!

    I ask you a yes or no question and you say:

    “You might check the formula I’ve given… ”
    “You might want to check my reply to shchasm where…”
    “I see we are talking about two different things here….”
    “Perhaps that would help clear up your question further.”

    It’s like every response EXCEPT the answer to the Q. Hilarious….

  123. shchasm says:

    Should we take in to account the odds that an indoctrinated child is going to reject that indoctrination at some point later in life?

  124. sonic says:

    That’s part of the (probability the child would disagree with the parents given he was of age).
    Absolutely- the point is that we can’t be certain the child wouldn’t do exactly what the parents are doing if he were of age, and since we would allow the parents the option- we should consider that we are making a mistake by assuming the child would want help despite not having asked for it- or that the child would necessarily change his mind as he got older.

    On the flip-side, the child might grow up to reject the reasons the parents have for not wanting medical care– in which case we would be correct to take him.

  125. sonic says:

    I know of no law that allows you to strangle a baby right after it’s born.
    But there are numerous laws I don’t know.
    It used to be legal to do ‘partial birth abortions’ here in the US, I don’t know if it still is elsewhere or not.
    That’s about as close to what you are talking about as I am aware of, but those aren’t currently legal. Contentious though- they may come back.

    Again- I’m not a lawyer and my knowledge of the law is minute– there are millions of them I don’t know. So I could be wrong.
    Sorry if that isn’t ‘yes’ or ‘no’- I hope you can understand why I wouldn’t answer a question i don’t know the answer to in such certain terms.

    The verb ‘lash out’ has a verbal component to it– to lash out, can be a verbal attack as well as physical.

  126. shchasm says:

    Where are we getting these hypothetical percentages? It’s interesting to note that once the child is dead we’ll never have to concern ourselves with validating the absurdity of this formula. “Now that you’re 18, are you glad we allowed you to die?”

  127. BillyJoe7 says:


    Any reasonable rational person would not let that child die. Period. There are no considerations that would cause a reasonable rational person to allow that child to die. Not his parents beliefs. Not their concern for their child’s suffering and imminent death. Not any presumed future beliefs that child may or may not hold if he had survived. Nothing. Any reasonable rational person is going to act on the brute fact that there is a child dying in agony who can have his pain relieved and his life saved.
    If that is being absolutist then hang it in me.

    So, you’re going to do what?….do some calculations!

  128. steve12 says:

    “I know of no law that allows you to strangle a baby right after it’s born.”

    So you think it’s OK to let ARMED GOV’T AGENTS come and take the baby away despite the heartfelt religious convictions of the parents?

    And what’s the difference between actively killing your children, and letting them die by actively witholding care?

    I’m sorry that you feel lashed out at, but you’ve painted yourself into an absurd corner by slavishly following Libertarian “principals”.

  129. sonic says:

    There are three percentages we have discussed-
    chance of death given no intervention, chance of successful treatment given intervention, and chance the child would ask for help were he of age (or conversely- chance he would disagree with his parents)…

    In the first case, I think we could get a good estimate from the doctors who had seen the child.
    In the second case, I’m not sure where those figures come from in the US, the CDC?
    In the third case, it would depend on why the parents were refusing… if it were because they just don’t like the local doctors or something, we could poll how many of the locals agree they don’t want the locals touching them either.
    In the case of a religious objection, we could estimate based on retention rate for the sect or whatever- and then this could be tempered by specific information about the child.

    The formula is as valid as the concerns behind it. Apparently you don’t share some of these concerns.
    However, if we are talking about changing the law (and you are demanding the law be changed), the formula should represent the considerations of the public it is intended to be applied to.

  130. sonic says:

    No, here in the US we take the person who has committed a crime- not the person who might have a crime committed against them or a person who might commit a crime.
    ‘Joe is going to hurt me,’ isn’t much interest to the police here.
    ‘Joe hurt me’ might be of interest– but they would take Joe away, not the person saying he was hurt.

    You know the difference between actively killing someone and withholding treatment, I hope. The people at your local hospital often actively withhold treatment– but I seriously doubt they do much active killing (probably some– murder takes place in the oddest of places sometimes…)

    Perhaps a chat with the triage specialist at the local emergency room or someone in the local ICU might be of help– they deal with issues like this.

    Generally we don’t allow trespass or kidnapping. You are asking to be exempted from two very valuable laws.
    That exemption is going to come with some restraints- just as the ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘property rights’ have some restraints.

    I’m trying to find a way to balance these concerns that would take into account the concerns and desires of the people that the laws are being applied to. What the people who are going to live under these laws want matters somewhat- right?

    On this side I see a bunch of extremists who are basically claiming a superior moral code- they know ‘black and white’ and think their actions shouldn’t be restrained by anyone else’s considerations.
    On the other side there are extremists who are saying their moral code is superior- they know ‘black and white’. And they think their actions shouldn’t be restrained either.

    This is typical of how these things play out in the press and so forth, but i think the legislators need to be of cooler head and less absolutist so they can compromise and come up with something everyone (except the few extremists) can live with.
    Trying to do law in this situation is messy, slow, and the wrong people get to say things and the law is almost never exactly what you want it to be.

    Dictatorship is much more efficient- and I think a benevolent dictator is probably the best form of government.
    It’s just that when I look at the history, I see the chance of getting a benevolent dictator (or monarch) isn’t all that great– especially when you consider how bad a non benevolent one can be.

    Am I being overly slavish to a philosophy here?

  131. sonic says:

    I missed you comment.
    Don’t be surprised when the people you are trying to convince to change their laws say this to you-

    “So, if your positions are absolute, I have nothing more to say to you”

    Ya know?

  132. BillyJoe7 says:


    You have pieces of string which are 1cm to 30 cm long. You would call me absolutist when I pick out the longest one and say, “this is 30cm long”.

    Anyway, whatever gets you out of answering the question posed.
    If your philosophising causes you to freeze up when a straight forward real case is presented, I would say your philosophy is broken.

    You are in a family restaurant. The child on the next table starts choking on a piece of steak. You race over to apply the Heimlich manoeuvre. His father asks you to stop. Let god’s will be done. What are you going to do? Get out your calculator or proceed with Heimlich?

  133. SteveA says:

    Steve 12: “Please answer: Can I lawfully strangle my baby right after it’s born if I have a sincere religious reason for doing so? Yes or No?”

    I think if Sonic ever got round to answering this question, it would be along the lines of…

    No, it’s not alright for a parent to strangle their baby, but it would be okay for the parent to drop an angry rattlesnake into the baby’s crib, because then it would be the snake killing the baby, not the parent.

    Anyhow, that seems to be the logic…

  134. sonic says:

    Consider this framing-
    The parents are asking to make the decision for one child- the one they gave birth to.
    Another person is demanding to make the decision for every child- including my mother’s.

    Two self- righteous ideologues- and I’m asked to pick–

    a) this one will leave me alone if I let him alone-

    b) this one might take my child against my will based on ‘black and white’ morals I don’t agree with. He is unreasoning and will only discuss highly emotional anecdotes. His pronouncements on right and wrong are ‘rational’ and must not be questioned in any way. He fails to note this is self-refuting.

    I don’t like either side– but don’t fault me too much for going with door ‘a’ if those are the only choices.

    This adherence to unquestionable right and wrong is one of the reasons I think it is important to keep church and state separate-
    Otherwise we just have people asserting ‘black and white’ morals without hope of compromise. There is more of that going on with the US government than usual. It’s not unusual that there is this aspect to the discussion- But eventually they make some silly formula that includes other people’s considerations in them so that it becomes apparent that we are all giving up something so as to live together peaceably.

    But no human alive could possibly tolerate to allow these horribly emotional anecdotes I’m fixated on to happen again– we must base all our decisions solely on not letting that happen again- ever. No other possible consideration has any importance whatsoever…

    Oh please- stick a sock in it- OK?

    I’m probably over the edge on this. I’ll retreat for a while.

  135. sonic says:

    You haven’t noticed that the only actual argument here is between a person who would like to discuss this rationally and a bunch of people who are attacking a straw man?

    Not very observant of you.

  136. Gallenod says:

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
    ― Thomas Jefferson

    In summary, as I believe it applies to medical decisions for children: Believe what you want personally, but you have no “natural right” (or Constitutional right) for those personal beliefs to interfere with your social duty as defined by law to provide medical care for your children.

  137. sonic says:

    I have discussed the ‘duty’ to protect the child from his parents vs. the ‘duty’ to protect the parents right to practice religion.

    Here is how the situation is explained to people who want to be a child’s guardian in my state-

    “You must take care of the child’s medical and dental needs, making sure he or she gets proper care. In most cases, you can also make decisions about any medical treatment the child needs.

    You must get the child counseling or other mental health services if the child needs them. But you cannot place the child in a mental health institution without a court order unless the child agrees.”

    “proper care” and “In most cases” are the areas of conflict.
    (Note- the child has to agree to certain interventions).

    I’m not sure that how these things will be adjudicated need be the same in each State of the country.
    I’m actually hoping that different States can adjudicate differently.

    I like Jefferson. Quote him regularly if you like. What would he say about that? State’s rights, I mean?

  138. steve12 says:

    10,000 more words, but not an answer the the question!

  139. Gallenod says:

    Idaho presents an interesting case, as the duly elected government apparently allows an exception or sorts for religious beliefs in the determination of dependent minor medical care. Thus, Jefferson’s view of the “social compact” would seem to side with the parents from the perspective of an individual state’s right to determine its own laws.

    However, that doesn’t necessarily make allowing such an exception a morally or ethically correct situation from the viewpoint of a theoretically objective observer also considering the right of the child to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and particularly the right to live given proper medical care instead of wishful thinking, which is what faith healing actually is. From that perspective, while the parents have a right to believe in wishful thinking, denying their dependent children medical care that is likely to save their lives is akin to denying them food, shelter, and other essential needs.

    So, to the issue of whether individual states can or should be allowed to determine their own policies for when and how to allow exemptions to any legal parental responsibility (medical, educational, etc.), not just refusal of care based on religious objections. Present practice seems to be that they are allowed to in the absence of two things:

    1. Duly enacted Federal legislation standardizing applicable law that trumps all individual state standards, or…

    2. Case law (likely a Supreme Court decision) that establishes a standard of responsibility, probably in reaction to a state or Federal law or possibly in the absence of a statute (though the Supremes are generally, but not always, reluctant to do this).

    My position is that if push comes to shove and the issue of religious objection to medical care is seriously fought out over many years in the courts that the “right to life” for the child will, in the end, trump a parent’s religious beliefs in much the same way that we do not accept that a religious belief allows the infliction of physical harm to an unwilling victim.

    That said, given the host of other issues clamoring for public and political attention, unless some highly committed advocacy group mounts a successful campaign to push this or a similar case through the courts I don’t see it rising to the Federal level for resolution. In Idaho, for example, they would either need to get a state prosecutor to charge the parents with criminal neglect (in oppostion to their own state’s law) or mount a civil lawsuit on behalf of the dead child. The former isn’t likely; the latter requires that they obtain standing and swim uphill against both the government that allowed the exemption and some well-funded private organizations that advocate for various state, parental and individual religious rights.

    And in states that do not allow a religious exemption the necessary court case might never arise, as denying medical care to a child is already illegal and any prosecution against the parents will likely be successful but not applicable to any other state. And prosecuting parents who have already been punished by the loss of their child can seem rather heartless, even if the point is to provide justification to remove any other children to safer environs, and may not happen because of the “optics.”

    All that said, I agree with Dr. Novella: Allowing a child to die because of a parent’s religious beliefs is wrong, whether that death is caused by murder (“My child was possessed by Satan; I had to kill him!”) or willful neglect (“God will heal her; she doesn’t need medicine.).

    But I’m not on the Supreme Court, so while my opinion may count, it may not count for much. 🙂

  140. Gallenod says:

    steve12: “10,000 more words, but not an answer the the question!”

    I’ll use Wrigs13’s first response to this thread to frame a question:

    “Should the government protect the rights of children over the desires or beliefs of the parents.”

    I’ll frame my analysis on the question as a debate between Abraham and Theodore Roosevelt.

    Abraham: “I have absolute power over my children, up to and including sacrificing them to my God.”

    Teddy: “I established the White House Conference on Child Dependency, which created a publicly funded volunteer organization to “establish and publicize standards of child care.”

    Abraham: “But I am the parent. My children are my issue. I created them, so I can decide how to raise and care for them.”

    Teddy: “You may have created them, but once they’re capable of independent life, they are whole beings in and of themselves, part of the community, and we all have a joint reponsibiity for their welfare, including protecting them from you if you act against their best interests as determined by the community.”

    Obviously that’s a fictional debate, but it is, as I see it, the essence of it. Of course, there’s no guarantee that what any particular state considers right and proper in terms of the welfare and upbringing of its children compared to what their parents may want is a good thing (e.g. Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or North Korea), but since we’re discussing whether or not to let a child die from a treatable medical condition just to satisfy a parent’s religious belief, I’m comfortable taking an interventionist position.

    Short of that, it really depends on what “the State” requires versus what parents want. Each case should be considered individually and on their own merits, though if the State is intent on having its way and not accountable to an empowered citizenry effectively opposing them either through majority voting or a successful armed insurrection, the State will likely win.

    And we’ve had lots of answers to that question in the comments above. It’s just that they’re all base on individial moral or ethical decisions and there is no requirement for unanimous consent. You’re not going to get a single answer out of this group; you’ll just have to figure out your own.

  141. BillyJoe7 says:


    You don’t seem to understand that you don’t need “black and white” morals to realise that you must step in and apply the Heimlich Manoeuvre to a child choking on a piece of steak and to call an ambulance for the child with the ruptured appendix. Really, if your political ideology or moral sense doesn’t allow to to save those children, you need to seriously reconsider.

    And your charge of “emotionalising” the issue by bringing up practical examples doesn’t wash because it is exactly to these situations that religious shield laws have applied. But I can’t help but see your continual refusal to consider these examples as the result of how uncomfortable you actually are about the practical consequences of your point of view.

    But then, in the end, and after all that, there is this from you…

    “But no human alive could possibly tolerate to allow these horribly emotional anecdotes I’m fixated on to happen again– we must base all our decisions solely on not letting that happen again- ever. No other possible consideration has any importance whatsoever…”

    And now I’m wondering what we have been arguing about.

  142. shchasm says:

    Sonic, the only percentage that is of any significance in your “equation” is the one that is impossible to get and is completely unverifiable. Remember, when choosing to let a child die for a superstion you are only satisfying the parents superstion. This isn’t “minority report”.

  143. steve12 says:

    “It’s just that they’re all base on individial moral or ethical decisions and there is no requirement for unanimous consent. ”

    I don’t know what this means.

    “You’re not going to get a single answer out of this group; you’ll just have to figure out your own.”

    This may sound crass, but I’m not looking for answers, and I have this figured out. I made clear at the top that I have an axe to grind, and it’s this libertarian nonsense that’s suddenly fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that some people are just going to have to die for it.

    When you see people arguing that it’s better to let your neighbor’s house burn down if they missed a fee, or let children in need of care die in plain view, or that the Civil Rights act should never have happened because individuals freedom to not hire ceratin races should be their prerogativeetc, etc., – you know something is very wrong. So I’m taking Sonic et al. arguments to their logical conclusions. Or at least I’m trying.

    Just to clarify – I’m not against weighing libertarian ideals in our political process. We absolutely should. But the effects wrought by these theoretical political systems matter.

    But this new trend of extremism has confused ideological principals

  144. sonic says:

    I agree with what you are saying.
    The point about the law in Idaho is key.
    I agree with your ‘conversation’ covering the main aspects-

    My personal line has a lot to do with-
    ‘is anyone asking for help?’
    ‘I’ll find someone who is then.’

    Agreed- you don’t need ‘black and white’ morals to help another.
    You don’t need ‘black and white’ morals to realize that when a parent tells you not to touch his child he might know something you don’t. And it isn’t always wrong to respect the kids request to be left alone either.
    You seem to forget- I have risked my life to help when asked.
    You seem to miss that aspect of my calculation- am I being told to go away? or am I being asked to help? I’m not in a position to over ride the other’s wishes.

    I don’t call for guns to force people to do what I want them to, and all though I realize that it is sometimes needed, I don’t think it necessary in situations where none of the people involved are asking for help.

    I might call the guns to keep someone away from me, however. 😉

    I’m not against a telling of the emotional story or the example– I just think you have to go passed those to see the bigger picture so you can make a decision that respects the complexity of the issue.

    And now we are both wondering what we have been arguing about. 🙂

    I think it is possible to get very good estimates on the chances of death given no intervention and the chances of death given intervention- usually (not always).
    As to the other– in the case of religion- there are sects with well known retention rates and so forth, but the current default is that the child is a believer and will remain so.
    By including that aspect in the formula, it becomes clear this default isn’t always the case– one reason I put it there so the parents can see they might be over riding their own child’s best wishes.
    I agree- it would be a difficult number to know- I agree this subject has complexities, but i think the number could be arrived at better than assuming the 100% that the child would agree with his parents, or assuming the 0% chance he would agree with his parents that people do without the formula making this assumption more explicit.


  145. SteveA says:


    This is not a complex issue, this is a contentious issue. There’s a difference.

    It’s contentious because some people believe that children are property and can be used, and abused, as their parents like. Specifically, that they can be sacrificed at the alter of their parents’ vanity (I say ‘vanity’ because, y’know these are the folk who think they can guide the actions of a magical super-being using their ESP powers).

    Other people, me included, do not think children are property. That they deserve the best we can give them, and that they should be saved from people who would allow them to come to harm. And if junior grows up thinking that the super-being meant him to die when he was six-months old, well, he might jump in a river on his 18th birthday. But that will be his choice; no-one else’s.

    Your ‘calculations’ and puerile arguments are nothing but squid ink. You reckon if you pump enough of it out, you’ll find somewhere to hide, long enough, hopefully, for everyone to get tired of this thread and leave your repellant nonsense unchallenged.

  146. sonic says:

    more about the equation– it really is an attempt to see if the actual disagreement is centered on the question that nobody is asking– what would the child do if he were of age?
    The parents assume the child is a member of their religion with the same commitment they have-
    The doctors assume the child would want the treatment- no question, they don’t consider what the child would want or whatever…

    The doctors are saying the most important thing is to save the life.
    The parents are saying the most important thing is to live the life the right way.
    (You know- the funny thing about religion- you can call it superstition, you can call it myth- whatever. The believers call it ‘the most important part of my life.’ Welcome to Idaho USA!)

    It seems there is a failure to acknowledge that the other guy has a point.

    And so we end up with absolutists arguing against straw men on both sides of the aisle- so to speak– because the language isn’t any better on Fox- if you catch my drift.

    Of all of the issues in the world- this one – religion.
    Makes GMO’s look like a patch of sanity…

    My silly formula. 🙂 Silly, silly boy.
    It’s a good thing I’m not that easily embarrassed.

    Thank-you for the eloquent and fervid exposition of your opinion.

  147. Bruce says:


    There are three points to your argument, from what I have seen:

    1) Right to religious belief vs right to life
    2) Age of consent
    3) Possible future consent or denial

    Calling both sides absolutionists is quite fallacious in that you are creating a false balance. People here are generally saying is that a child’s right to life trumps religious beliefs. I don’t think there is any case where right to religion should outweigh the right to life, you can argue the right to make the choice, but that is not the case in this instance because it is already assumed that the child does not have the right to the choice.

    You can mathematicise that right to choice all you want, but you keep missing that point that children are not able to make wise and informed choices because we, as humans are born quite unformed mentally and need to be nurtured in order to get to a state where we are able to survive without parental guidance. Ages of consent differ from country to country and culture to culture, and you can get into a wider debate about what is a reasonable age of consent. That is fine. It really has little bearing on this argument because every single human being will agree that there is a point in a child’s life where it is not able to make the decision themselves eg am I going to ask my then 5 month old son if he wants to go to hospital for the Rotavirus? What if he comes along quite happily but then fights when the canula is being put in? He doesn’t want this treatment, but we, as adults know better. Lines have to be drawn somewhere, and whether the child will be able to consent 10 months later or 10 years later, there really is no middle ground, either the treatment is given without explicit consent or no treatment is given, if a medical professional tells me that my son is more likely to live with treatment than without, then it is my duty as a parent to consent to it. If you are in a position to wait for the child to reach the age of consent before the treatment can be given and that does not influence his chances of survival, then fine, wait the day or two for them to become an “adult”. That is the only maths you need.

    Your argument of possible future consent does not hold any water either. You cannot argue a point on what might or might not happen. Doing this has a name in popular culture and that is “gambling”. Are you happy to gamble a life on what someone might or might not believe in 5 years time? What about people who might be religious at the point of consent but then 4 years later change religious beliefs? It is just not possible to know what someone is going to believe over the course of their life. Would you allow a child to die because you can confidently say that if they lived they would for every second of their future life past the age of consent would agree with the decision?

    As SteveA said above, this is not complicated, it is very simple, either it is ok to let a child who does not know better die due to a religious belief, or it is not. We, as skeptics will tell you that there is evidence for life, but there is no evidence for religious beliefs, so quess where we will put our markers? Your other arguments about consent and future belief might be worthy of discussion (or not), but they are not actually influencers at the core, and there is very simply no “other side” to this core argument that does not rely on religious crankery.

  148. BillyJoe7 says:


    Well, we’re repeating the same arguments so I think we’re through here.

    I’m thinking the difference between us is that, although neither of us is religious (I think I’m right about that), I have no respect for religion but, for some reason, you give it a respect it does not deserve. And, although I might respect religious people for other reasons, I don’t respect them for their religious views. I don’t respect people who just believe. It’s bad enough when they believe blindly, worse when they believe without evidence, and worst when they believe contrary to the evidence. Science, reason, and logic are hard. I can’t respect those who take the easy way out. I can’t respect those who are slaves someone else’s interpretation of an unauthenticated, inconsistent, amoral, ancient book.

    Perhaps that just reflects my own difficult journey from an unthinking, indoctrinated, devoutly religious adolescent to a reason, logic, and evidence based adult

    This not why I have the views I have, but I think it makes it easier for me to see the correctness of that view. I know what it feels like to just believe something as a given because everyone you know just “knows” that it is true. And I know what it feels like to escape from the lies told by religion. I know that religion is a lie and I know that science, reason, and logic are paths towards the truth because I have lived both.

    It’s bad enough when a misguided adult dies uselessly for his superstitious beliefs.
    It is unacceptable when a child dies uselessly for that misguided adults superstitious beliefs.
    Six year old child cannot be said to hold his parents religious beliefs and, if he dies because of them, he will never hold his parents religious beliefs. He will suffer and die for beliefs he has never and will never hold. If someone intervenes to relieve his pain and save his life, I imagine that would have a profound influence on his future religious beliefs.

  149. sonic says:

    Bruce- BillyJoe7-

    When it comes time to negotiate in an attempt to change the existing laws, if I need someone who totally disrespects and ignores the most important aspect of the lives of the people they want to govern–
    I’ll call you two.

    I can see how this disrespect for the people would allow you to demand that any and all force be brought against the people without hesitation or consideration about the things they care about most.
    I’ve always wondered how people justified the use of force like that.

    Thank you.

  150. shchasm says:

    Sonic, you’ve simply gone off the rails. Who cares what a child is going to want when that child becomes a legal adult.. There’s a strong chance that a child may want to drive a car, have sex, drink alcohol, run away from home, smoke cigarettes, etc. Should we allow them to do these things as a minor because in the future they might want to. Your idea has been pretty well pounded into the dirt on this thread. Maybe you should just publish something and let it get pounded into dirt elsewhere.

  151. shchasm says:

    So sonic, say your “formula” gives you a 75% chance a child will retain their parents religious belief system (whatever that means, because millions call themselves Christians yet have varying degrees of “faith” even within a family unit). Do you only give the child 75% of the life saving surgery?

  152. BillyJoe7 says:


    The religious shield laws are changing and even disappearing. Fortunately. And with no help from me or Bruce. In fact the strongest group pushing this change was started up by a mother who let her child die of meningitis because of her religious beliefs. She no longer holds those beliefs and is pushing back at those religions that do. She saw the light through her own bitter experience. She paid too high a price. Some of these religions had, amongst their congregations, 800 times the maternal mortality rate and 40 times the child mortality rate.

    This must stop.
    Religious shield laws must be repealed.
    Religion is not a special case.

    We must not accommodate religions that marginalise people (women, children, and homosexuals) and kill people through neglect (mainly women and children). We must show them this is unacceptable and prosecute them when they persist. Fortunately this is happening. Prosecutions are occurring though the penalties have been light. More importantly, people are abandoning these religions. They don’t want any more of their children dying for their religious beliefs. They don’t want to die themselves.

    I hope you appreciate the irony.

  153. Bruce says:

    “I’ve always wondered how people justified the use of force like that.”

    I would rather hurt someone’s feelings than let a child die. That is how I justify it.

    I would like you to justify letting a child die because someone “believes” something.

  154. sonic says:

    You make a beautiful case as to why we need not try to change these laws– if we let the people follow through, they will want to change them for themselves.
    And I will be pleased when that happens.
    Thank you.

    Sometimes it might make sense to lose one battle to win the war. But we would have to talk about something other than highly emotional anecdotes to be able to consider things like that.

    Thank-you for the in depth analysis of the situation.

  155. BillyJoe7 says:


    Depends on how many children you are happy to let die before change occurs.
    If you employ all three strategies – natural attrition, the carrot, and the stick – you are going to achieve change much faster than through natural attrition alone. Look at any change that has occurred in our society. It requires the natural attrition plus diplomacy plus activism.
    So, no, I haven’t made your case for you.

    And those anecdotes were my attempt to get you to see the practical results of your political ideology, which is to paralyse you into inaction.

  156. sonic says:

    Perhaps you can help explain where I’m off the rails–

    Here’s what it looks like to me-

    It is clear the people in Idaho aren’t doing anything illegal.
    The people in the jurisdiction where they live with have agreed they have no duty to the community beyond what they are doing.

    It is clear that this is not about helping children as the amount of resources spent in an attempt to save very few could probably save 10,000’s of children from blindness and death. And these are children and parents who would actually want the help and be grateful rather than resentful.

    Yet the people who want to change the law will only discuss children- indicating they are either trying to hide the actual intentions for attacking these people, or they are acting from emotion too overwhelming for a more rational discussion–
    including any discussion of the aspects of decision making that might be involved when dealing with the people they are attempting to command into action.
    Or possible reasons not to use force–
    For example- suppose we let one go through with this so we don’t have to keep fighting this issue with all the members– they will change their minds once they see the consequences and we won’t have to use force on them.

    It’s all about righteous indignation and saving a kid– never mind the 10,000’s that are being ignored that could be helped with the resources we have used for this effort…

    On the flip side– what the parents are doing is perfectly legal, so I want to consider the parents might be right. For this I’m vilified and attacked in the most ridiculous of manners.

    Everybody dies-
    Some people care most IF they live.
    Some people care most HOW they live.

    These two differences in what matters can lead to conflict–

    I have come to two conclusions:

    I will never attempt to write laws for people unless I agree that the things that matter to them matter to me.

    People who don’t care about what the population thinks shouldn’t be involved in writing laws for that population.

    Explain how I’m wrong. I really don’t know.

  157. sonic says:

    And you have stopped a child beater lately?
    Your personal inability to act without use of government sanctioned force is distressing to me.

  158. BillyJoe7 says:

    Action takes all forms. My action might be merely to support groups whose action is to lobby governments whose action is hopefully to eliminate those religious shield laws. We can all do our bit. On the other hand we can drag down the effort by accommodating those religions that cause these tragedies.

    But I’m starting to see a series of shifting goal posts now.

  159. sonic says:

    That was reflexive and silly.

    I was so happy to see you talking about something other than the emotional anecdotes and onto something where a rational thought might be shared-

    And the ‘paralyzed into inaction’ makes me laugh my ass off when it doesn’t piss me off.
    I do wish you would stop operating on such a falsehood at this point.
    Thank-you for your consideration of this matter.

  160. shchasm says:

    Pedophilia matters to some. Actually, there’s probably s far greater number of pedophiles than there are parents that sit around and watch their children die because of superstition. Should we make a favourable law for pedophiles, sonic? Maybe we can come up with a formula for these children, because you know, if god didn’t want them molested he would have done something about it. Would you as a law maker take into account these poor suffering pedophiles? They are a part of your constituency.
    Don’t forget, we live in a Republic.

  161. steve12 says:

    I do have one more question for Sonic:

    Can I lawfully strangle my baby right after it’s born if I have a sincere religious reason for doing so? That is, should the gov’t be able to stop me, or is that my right?

    It’d be super if you could answer this – thanks!


  162. sonic says:

    Rather than answering my questions you have erected another straw man.
    What exactly am I supposed to think about that? Seriously.

    I’m sorry, I thought I answered that before.

    I know of no law that allows a parent to kill a child after it is born in the US today for any reason religious or otherwise.

    Perhaps if you contact a lawyer who deals in family law you could get a more certain answer than I’m able to provide- ‘I don’t know of any law’ is a fair cry from ‘there is no law’ because I’m not a lawyer or even a trained paralegal and I haven’t done the research required to be more certain than the answer I am giving now. And I’m talking about the US only– never mind the rest of the world.

    My investigation of the question has lead to some things I do find interesting however- allow me to share-

    Apparently there are numerous cases of infanticide in the US every year- (over 600 in 1983 is the estimate I’m looking at). Of course it is not possible for the police to stop a parent from killing a child in every case (babies are not assigned armed guards at birth and killing an infant doesn’t take very long necessarily).

    Apparently a person can get a couple years in prison for killing a baby in the US today.

    Historically infanticide is fairly common and legal-
    Christianity rejects infanticide, and as I understand it the Christians have been instrumental in stopping the practice around the world.

    Apparently some places- England included have laws that make infanticide separate from murder- acknowledging the difficulties of being a mother, I guess. (Reduced penalties and so forth).

    It seems numerous animals have been seen commit infanticide.

    Here is a recent paper from the journal of medical ethics that might be more to your taste– (Note, the authors are not calling for any change in a law anywhere, they are just discussing this as an academic exercise)-


    Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

    Is that the sort of thing you were looking for?

  163. BillyJoe7 says:

    I know the “emotional anecdotes” are uncomfortable for you.
    But, there is no getting around it. Your point of view on this question has the practical consequence of allowing parents to let their children die in agony for their own religious beliefs. And ideological commitments like yours allow these tragedies to continue. It’s a tragedy and a travesty.
    I can quite understand the mental contortions you’ve had to go through to to try to justify your ideological commitments. Religious freedom. The future beliefs of the child. Cost benefit.
    You may think you sound reasonable and rational, and suitable emotionally removed, but to me…well, I’ve already given my opinion, so I think I’ll just leave it there.

  164. steve12 says:

    Thanks Sonic.

    Do YOU think – your opinion – that the government has a right under the US Constitution to intervene if someone is strangling their babies for sincere religious reasons? And by intervene I mean remove the babies from the parents?

  165. sonic says:

    When I started on this thread I pointed out that the government doesn’t have a ‘duty’ to do anything about this law (the legal jurisdiction can have these laws of the people and by the people)-

    and that the reason for the demand to change the law isn’t really rational if the effort is about helping children (A horrible use of resources).

    Have we come to some agreement on those points at all?

    Emotional anecdotes don’t really bother me much, I believe I’ve shared a few with you.

    I just don’t think they are good basis for law, where more reasoned approaches are more valuable.
    And I especially don’t like the use of emotional anecdotes to hide the actual intentions of those bringing them up.

    we good on that?

  166. sonic says:

    Ah- I get the question! I was wondering if i was missing something and I was. Thanks.

    I think the constitution can be interpreted in numerous ways. I wouldn’t be in favor of any interpretation that allowed someone to kill another for religious reasons.

    I think the right to ‘freedom of religion’ is a right of thought- not action- especially when that action effects another in such a way.

    I think where we differ on this is that I am very sensitive to the difference between saying ‘no’ to an intervention and actually taking steps to kill someone.
    Perhaps it is because when I worked in the hospital I withheld treatment from people (DNR) and I don’t want to consider that I’m a murderer.

    Do you think I’m a murderer because I didn’t even try when some of patients had heart attacks?

  167. steve12 says:

    “Do you think I’m a murderer because I didn’t even try when some of patients had heart attacks?”

    PAtients under DNR orders? Of course not.

    ” I wouldn’t be in favor of any interpretation that allowed someone to kill another for religious reasons….
    I think the right to ‘freedom of religion’ is a right of thought- not action- especially when that action effects another in such a way.”

    Witholding medical care is not a thought. It’s an action.

  168. sonic says:

    I can appreciate what you are saying- you think I’m condoning murder or manslaughter.
    I run into that with people when abortion comes up as well- they think that if I’m willing to allow that I’m condoning murder.

    I think both might be right, I’m not completely sure I’m not condoning murder in either case or both cases, honestly. I’m certainly not advocating either practice, but there is a demand to eridicate these practices by some.

    I’m pretty sure what the people in Idaho are doing is legal in Idaho.
    I don’t like it, but…
    I think this is a reflection of what that community feels is important.

    I’m certain that the money spent trying to change a law could save many more lives if it were spent helping people who actually ask for the help.
    The use of highly emotional anecdotes to thwart any rational discussion on this topic is telling.

    Sorry if that’s an unacceptable position, I really haven’t heard any reason to change it.

  169. BillyJoe7 says:

    “I’m certain that the money spent trying to change a law could save many more lives if it were spent helping people who actually ask for the help”

    That’s your view in a nutshell.

    Apparently we should only help people who actually ask for help. If they’re stoically putting up with their miserable lot that’s just fine. They’re not asking for help. We can ignore them. If their situation is such that they are unable to ask for help (emotional anecdote deleted because apparently if you have an emotional anecdote you’re incapable of thinking rationally), that’s fine also. They’re not asking for help. We can ignore them. And If they’re asking for help, do they get help? Nope. Get in line. Apparently there are others that can be saved at less cost. If fact is all just went on oral rehydration fluid. All other programs have been cancelled until nobody in the world is dying of dehydration. Then do you get help. Nope. You’re not next on the list.
    Apparently this is the rational point of view.

    “The use of highly emotional anecdotes to thwart any rational discussion on this topic is telling”

    Your refusal to consider the practical consequences of your ideological commitments is what is telling.
    Rational discussion of this topic must necessarily include the consequences of your actions.

  170. sonic says:

    You are close. I’d leave someone who was asking to be left alone- alone.

    The practical consequences- here are a few that come to mind…

    1000’s of children saved as opposed to millions of dollars in lawyers fees. (This is a supreme court case eventually- no guarantee of victory, but I can assure you millions of dollars spent.)

    As you pointed out- if we lose the one, we might gain an ally in the community- perhaps the best way to go-

    If the father decides to shoot whoever touches the kid– do we put him down?
    Been to Idaho lately? – what if there are 17 guys there with guns? I mean these are the people who elected the officials that kept the law. They might think it’s right.

    This could get framed as attack on religion in the name of ‘medical care’ or ‘big pharma’ and that might have consequences we really don’t want to deal with either– I’m not sure that will help with the vaccine compliance, for example.

    I notice that Pat Robertson is saying Ken Ham is wrong about evolution. What are the chances this law changes because the religious people want it to? Perhaps that’s an angle we could explore.

    Maybe the USA is the place where small communities can have laws that aren’t the same as everywhere else — and it is up to the community to decide what is most important to them. I’ll bet these people think that way. Perhaps we must disabuse these people of the notion that they should have any say in how they conduct their lives, but do we need to lead with this issue?

    Sure, let’s discuss the practical consequences. There are no doubt quite a few.

    Re: the anecdotes:
    I worked in an emergency room – part of my job was to take dead bodies to the morgue. I’ll avoid specifics of how it is a body ends up being dead…
    You can stop worrying- the anecdotes don’t bother me that much.

  171. BillyJoe7 says:

    I give you a real life tragedy and you give me a self serving just so story.
    Unless you have a real life tragedy where 17 guys with guns prevented someone in Idaho from saving the life of a six year old with a ruptured appendix.

  172. sonic says:

    You avoid the issue again–

    According to the UN, 30,000 children die every single day from diseases that could be treated inexpensively.

    Apparently the laws in the US that allow for the religious exemption cost about 1 or 2 lives per year. To fight the court battles, millions of dollars will be required.

    If we spend those same millions on actually treating children, 1000’s could be saved every single day.

    Tell me why that doesn’t matter again– I seem to have missed the explanation.

    (and what six-year old died from a ruptured appendix because the parents prayed?)

  173. sonic says:

    What are we disagreeing about?

    You all ready said the shield laws are the problem- right?

    If a community wants those laws- I think that is OK. I’d rather have it so that some people can say ‘no’ to some authorities sometimes. Even when the authorities are right. This isn’t a problem that needs eradication, I don’t think.

    I’ll bet that attitude has a lot to do with some of our disagreements– huh.

    We both know it isn’t a rational use of resources if the goal is to save kids– right?

  174. BillyJoe7 says:

    I refuse to explain it a third time.

  175. SteveA says:

    Sonic: “According to the UN, 30,000 children die every single day from diseases that could be treated inexpensively.

    Apparently the laws in the US that allow for the religious exemption cost about 1 or 2 lives per year. To fight the court battles, millions of dollars will be required.”

    As I’ve said before, it’s a false dilemma. You can do both.

    But while we’re at it, what about the millions and millions spent on the upkeep of houses of worship; on the salaries of priests, the hymnals and the hassocks and the pews and the bibles and the stained glass and the gas it costs driving to church. Not to mention the heating. Millions and millions and millions that could be spent on medicines to save the lives of children in the Third World.

    Because the millions and millions spent on lawyers WILL be saving the lives of a few children (sorry you don’t think they’re worth it); I wonder how many lives the hassock etc. budget will save?

    (And I imagine your comeback would be along the lines of ‘but churches do so much to raise money’. To which the reply is: churches don’t raise money; people do, and they don’t need a church to do it in.)

  176. sonic says:

    I’m not a big fan of these laws- it’s just that changing them isn’t an efficient way to help kids in need.
    I don’t like the use of emotional anecdotes as a means of discussing what to do about law- it doesn’t promote rational thinking.

    It seems I have miscommunicated quite a bit on this thread- it seems this is a messy subject.

    Where I live the government does not have limited funds, so it is important that they consider what the options are when spending money. In this case, if they want to spend the money to overturn these laws, that’s fine– but if they want to spend the money to help kids, this isn’t the best way to do so.

    There- I’ve said it clearly. Sorry for the difficulty.

    Is there something called an ‘anti-authoritarian?’

  177. BillyJoe7 says:


    Then please don’t complain when you’re dying for want of a coronary artery bypass graft because the government (or your private health fund) has discovered it can help more people more efficiently by not funding this type of surgery. Sorry for the emotional anecdote.

    In addition to being quilty of miscommunication, you are also quilty of never addressing the whole of the opposing argument. Several times I have made the point that you can have a rational reasonable argument about emotional subjects without ignoring the emotional aspects and that, in fact, you must consider these emotional aspects to come to a rational reasonable decision. But you simply ignore this and continue to insist that they must be set aside. But this is exactly what allows you to use the ridiculous argument from cost effectiveness (as a cover for your political ideology – religious freedom/libertarianism). And you have thereby convinced yourself that these children can continue to suffer and die.

    You’ve got a ridiculous argument, and you know it (okay perhaps you are too wrapped up in your ideology to know it), so let’s just call it quits shall we.

  178. steve12 says:

    “I can appreciate what you are saying- you think I’m condoning murder or manslaughter.”

    No. I think you’re applying a philosophical solution to a real situation and refusing to acknowledge that it’s not working. You’re so desperate to cover this fact that you’re actually trying to use the absurd red herring of efficient resource allocation, which has nothing to do with anything.

    What is the difference between strangling your child for religious reasons and neglecting them to death for religious reasons? I’ll answer: precisely nothing.

    The notion that one is an action and the other is the withholding of action is only semantic. If I see a child whose appendix has burst and I watch TV instead of helping – I have taken action to kill him (by DOING whatever else I did instead of helping, here watching TV) . There really is no such thing as “doing nothing” – what does that even mean? There are choices: “sitting in a chair” is just as much a choice, and therefore an action, as “strangling people”.

    Ergo, if you’re against allowing parents to strangle their children for religious reasons, it’s absurd to allow them to neglect them to death for the same reasons.

  179. sonic says:

    Why would I be telling the doctors to go away?
    You have attacked another straw man. In fact, I believe that every communication you have presented here was an attack on a straw man.
    You seem to hate the man of straw you have erected.

    So do I.

    I think you would do better in an emergency room than in a hospice care situation.

    If resource allocation is meaningless, then why do you care what the parents do?
    Aren’t you upset that they are misallocating their time and efforts and wasting a valuable resource (a child)?

    I’m not sure you are thinking rationally or logically on this.

  180. BillyJoe7 says:

    I said your political ideology is “sending the doctor away”.
    So much for your strawman.

    It is interesting though that what you would do personally does not align with your political ideology.

  181. sonic says:

    Again with a straw man.

    I said- ‘If someone is asking to be left alone- then I would leave them alone’– this is not an absolutist thing- it’s just a basic policy.

    I have suggested that if our government wants to help children, that the government consider the cost/benefit of the actions.

    I await the man of straw you erect from that.

  182. steve12 says:

    This has actually become sad. I feel a party to something tragic….yet I can’t look away!

    “If resource allocation is meaningless, then why do you care what the parents do?”

    No one said it’s meaningless, it’s just not germane to the question being debated. It’s irrelevant to individual vs. collective rights.

    “Aren’t you upset that they are misallocating their time and efforts and wasting a valuable resource (a child)?
    I’m not sure you are thinking rationally or logically on this.”

    RELEVANCE!!!!!!!! RELEVANCE!!!!!!!!RELEVANCE!!!!!!!!RELEVANCE!!!!!!!! Did I mention that this is absurdly irrelevant to the question of individual rights vis-s-vis the gov’t? Has that come across at all? What’s more illogical than bringing up irrelevant points?

    This is called a RED HERRING. And you’re not fooling anyone with it.

    You don’t even attempt to answer my RELEVANT point about the difference between strangling and neglect. At least the continuum fallacy you used earlier is RELEVANT.

    BTW – this resource allocation argument is irrelevant. Just FYI.

  183. steve12 says:

    The problem with libertarianism is the libertarians. I used to consider myself one until I saw the slavish and rigid devotion to nonsense that it inspires.

    As an ideal to be weighed carefully it’s useful and important. As an absolutist worldview its patent madness.

  184. JJ Borgman says:

    Action (strangulation) vs inaction (leave the cure in the hands of God) is more, I think, the point of the parents in question here. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to call both murder (semantics), but from a fundamentalist theism perspective, I can understand the predicament of their position. They are, after all, up against the “will of God”.

    To be clear, I think the inaction position is indefensible, but also the argument being put forward by some folks. IMO, the community (government) is fully within its sovereign rights to disallow an absolute right to exercising religious (and other) belief. That just happens to include anyone or anything that is incapable of defending itself. There is necessarily a requirement for an advocate (and law) in such cases.

  185. sonic says:

    steve12- JJBorgman-
    I am not a libertarian.

    The parents in Idaho are not doing anything illegal.

    I am withholding care from literally 1000’s of children who I could save this very moment.
    Am I a mass murderer?

    If so, then why am I allowed to walk around? I’ve been doing this for years now.
    If not, then why not?

    Those questions are not meant to be rhetorical-

  186. steve12 says:

    So sad when someone can’t deal like this.

    “The parents in Idaho are not doing anything illegal.”

    The question we’re debating is WHETHER it should be legal or not, so this is a horseshit irrelevan point.

    “I am withholding care from literally 1000′s of children who I could save this very moment.
    Am I a mass murderer?”

    Ridiculous Sonic. You’re not the guardian of those children, which is clearly what we’re talking about here. More tricks..

    “If so, then why am I allowed to walk around? I’ve been doing this for years now.
    If not, then why not?”

    Answered above.

    This is absurd. You refuse to argue in good faith w/o these ridiculous excursions so I’m done.

  187. sonic says:

    I’m getting confused trying to read the last couple things I wrote about this.
    I’ll give it a rest for a while.

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