There are religions in the United States that do not believe in worldly medicine, vaccinations or hospitals. The problem with this is that often, children in such families don’t get proper medical treatment, and in some cases this has proven fatal.
More and more, social service departments and schools are resorting to the courts to force medical treatment for sick children in such circumstances. In a few cases, US judges have ordered specific medical treatment.
While this can be life-saving, and I don’t argue that a judge should not render a decision that saves a child’s life, there is a danger implicit in even the most learned judge making medical decisions.
The question of whether or not judges should order specific medical procedures for minors is a complex one to answer. Generally, if a minor’s life is in jeopardy because of a parent’s refusal to allow a treatment, a judge is acting morally when he or she orders treatment. But, such treatment should only be on the advice of a competent medical professional, and in all cases, more than one should be consulted.
It is a sad fact that the practice of medicine is often more art than science. Some doctors have favored forms of treatment, and if the judge accepts the medical opinion of just one doctor, the judgment rendered could quite possibly be wrong.
Whenever such cases arise, the wise course would be to consult with one or more independent medical sources regarding the necessity and efficacy of any recommended treatment. If all agree, then the treatment should be ordered – if in doing so, the child’s life is saved, or a worse condition is averted.
An exception here is the matter of vaccinations. School systems require students to be immunized not just for their own protection, but for the protection of all other students and faculty in the school. For a parent to refuse to allow immunization against a contagious disease such as measles on religious grounds is, in my opinion an abuse of individual liberty.
In the Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying “Render unto Caesar,” which indicates to me that when religious beliefs come into conflict with social order, one must use good judgment and consider the greater good.
If the position that has been stated here appears less than definite it’s because in matters of medicine and law, we’re dealing with common sense and judgment as much as fact. A judge must listen to all sides of a case and apply knowledge of the law with a measure of humanity and caution.
The rights of the individual (religion, etc.) must be protected; but not at the expense of society at large. There can be no hard and fast answer to this question. Each case is unique, and must be decided on its own merits.