Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Medical Negligence On Religious Grounds

Some religious groups or denominations, for one reason or another, refuse to allow anyone in their congregation to have the benefit of medical attention. They forbid their followers from undergoing specific types of procedures, or taking certain types of medications. In some cases, the religions beliefs can ban medicine entirely and force followers to rely only on prayers and faith.

They claim that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right of people to their own choice of religious beliefs, but some judges have ruled that it does not necessarily protect the kind of conduct that those beliefs can cause. Some states have laws that allow parents and guardians to be exempt from criminal negligence charges based on child welfare laws, but only if the condition was not a threat to the child's life. However, a number of recent deaths caused by religious convictions of the parents have been instances where they were keenly aware of the deteriorating physical condition of their children.

An estimated 300 children have died within the US because of medical care withheld on religious grounds, according to representatives from Children's Health Care Is A Legal Duty, an Iowa-based group that advocates the punishment of parents that do not seek medical aid for children who require it. Criminal codes provide protection for parents in most of these cases, particularly if they can prove on religious grounds that their faith forbids them from seeking out help. This is something that the aforementioned group adamantly opposes, and they wish to have such parents be held legally liable.

This has put forth an interesting question. Should it be criminally liable for parents to knowingly neglect the health of their children if their religious beliefs forbid them from seeking out medical treatment? On one hand, the argument is that their beliefs and practices are protected by the Constitution. However, the counter-argument is that the beliefs are protected, but not any practices that may be covered by laws.

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