Child doomed by religious faith

May 9, 2009 • 10:33 am

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

–Steven Weinberg

No conflict between science and religion, you say?  Have a look at this article from the Minneapolist StarTribune.  Thirteen-year old Daniel Hauser, whose parents are Catholics but adhere to the healing practices of “the Nemenhah religious group” (this appears to be a Native American religion that believes in spiritual and herbal healing) decided that he didn’t want treatment for his Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Instead, he wants herbal treatments, and his parents are supporting him.  With chemotherapy, the cure rate is very high; doctors say that without it his survival probability is 5%.

The Hausers are in court:

Colleen and Anthony Hauser are in a legal battle with Brown County, where authorities are accusing the parents of child neglect and endangerment. After Daniel stopped chemotherapy after a single treatment, opting instead for “alternative medicines,” child protection workers went to court requesting custody.

Doctors had recommended six chemo treatments, followed by radiation. Dr. Bruce Bostrom, a pediatric oncologist at Childrens Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and Daniel’s treating physician, on Friday estimated the risk of death from forgoing treatment at about 95 percent. And he testified that Daniel’s tumor had grown since he underwent one chemotherapy treatment in February.

“What is the ultimate outcome of that process?” Tom Sinas, an attorney for the guardian ad litem, asked of the tumor’s growth.

“Death,” Bostrom replied.

The StarTribune report goes on:

The Hausers declined to speak to reporters after Friday’s court session. But Dan Zwakman, a member of the Nemenhah religious group to which they belong, acted as the family spokesman. He argued that this is a case about religious freedom, noting that the group’s motto is “our religion is our medicine.”

. . . Earlier in the day, Dr. Bruce Bostrom of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, who first diagnosed the cancer when the boy arrived at a Minneapolis emergency room in January, said Daniel has a 95 percent chance of survival if he receives chemotherapy.

Bostrom also said he believes Daniel does not fully understand his condition.

“I think that he understands that he was sick,” Bostrom testified. “He doesn’t understand that the Hodgkin’s is what’s making him sick, and he was led to believe that the chemotherapy was making him sick, when the exact opposite was true.”

“Religious freedom” is not the freedom to kill a child through withholding science-based medicine.  A 13-year-old child, perhaps brainwashed by his parents, simply cannot make this decision for himself.   This is a life-or-death conflict between science, which can save the child, and religion, which is killing him.   No conflict here? What would Francis Collins say?

(Thanks to P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula for calling this to my attention.  He has a post on this incident.)

16 thoughts on “Child doomed by religious faith

  1. Unreal. The stupidity of the parents. Apparently, their gods are more important to them than their own child. They should be prosecuted after the custody is taken from them.

  2. ‘He argued that this is a case about religious freedom, noting that the group’s motto is “our religion is our medicine.”’

    I never cease to be amazed by people who do this kind of thing in cold blood. Why are they more dedicated to posturing about their religious freedom than they are to saving their child’s life? What kind of weird self-admiring trip are they on, that can trump the normal desire not to see their kid die a horrible death? It baffles me.

  3. Oh god thank goodness for the laws that allow them to take custody of sick kids in these situations.

  4. Just like a a story my mother told me years ago about a little girl, Molly, who lived nearby when she was growing up in, ironically, Minnesota. This was in the mid/late 1920s. Molly was diagnosed with diabetes, and began getting insulin injections. She started to improve. But her parents, Xtian Scientists (always wondered where they came up with that), decided that God wouldn’t approve and the injections were stopped. Predictably, Molly died. Good that the county’s trying to step in on this one!

  5. Here in Oklahoma, there is Church of the Firstborn, and they adhere to healing-through-faith as well. Several years ago, there was a 2- or 3-year-old-child that was allowed by the parents to die of a treatable disease. This isn’t unusual here.

    If you think about it though, science is a direct assault on their faith because deep down, they know medicine can do something their god can’t. When the child dies, they will say it was god’s plan and even pat themselves on the back for their faith. But their all-important, fragile faith will emerge unscathed.

    Shameful and disgusting.

  6. The newspaper article didn’t mention what the MN law is and whether or not there is a religious exclusion. At what age is a person legally free to make the decision about medical treatment? And, if the parents do not carry out the court order (the mother has said that she won’t), can they be prosecuted? There have been several well known cases in the last few years. As I recall, there’s a case where the parents are being prosecuted because of a child’s death while they and others prayed. I guess the idea is that faith can move mountains.

  7. If non-religious parents withheld treatment from their child, resulting in the child’s death, they would surely be prosecuted (and rightly so). Freedom of religion should not include doing harm to others, especially children.

    If these people want to withhold treatment for their own illnesses, fine. I support that right. But this kid is 13 years old. He’s not old enough to make a life or death decision and he, thanks to his upbringing, has no clue about medical science either.


  8. “What would Francis Collins say?” He will hide behind some quantum mechanics fluctuation I guess…

  9. Most people who believe in God do not feel this way. These parents may call themselves Catholics but I would hate to see this associated with Catholicism. This was about their Native American faith healing religion. There are extremest everywhere, which is very sad.

    Please do not lump all people who believe in God as crazy Faith Hearlers or Young Earth advocates.

    Many of us are strong proponents of pure science and modern medicine.

  10. (per NBC): Daniel & mother now on the lam, thought to be headed for Mexico.

    Presumably they’re after laetrile or some such junk-science treatment. What defect of mental wiring causes people like the mother to behave this way? It’s not like Daniel has something with at best a 5% survival rate from conventional medicine, like pancreatic cancer.

  11. Doesn’t Religious Freedom work both ways – is it so hard for the Doctors to respect the family’s decision. What is the percentage of people who have died that had chemotherapy? It is extremely high! Chemotherapy doesn’t cure cancer it kills the good cells too – the life span would be 6 months to 2 years anything over that is a bonus!

    Putting a poison into your body to cure a poison doesn’t work and it is not in God’s Order. Where is the choice in that! Obviously that choice is taken away from the parents and that is NOT RIGHT!

    1. What is the percentage of people who have died that had chemotherapy?

      100%, of course, same as the percentage of those that did not have chemotherapy or even cancer.

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