The general assumption is that an adult is capable of making their own decisions regarding how their life is conducted, what preferences they hold, and what choices they make. An adult might be politically conservative or liberal, a meat-eater or vegan. They might like action/adventure movies or opt for a more cerebral fare at the cinema. Curry might be their preference over Mexican, or vice versa, or they may be equally enthusiastic about both. Regardless, their choices are or certainly should be their own, neither coerced nor forced.
Minor children typically do not have such freedom. In many if not most cases, they are expected to emulate their parents and follow their example, as well as accede to their elders’ decisions regarding their lives. This principle is based on the presumption that children do not have the experience or judgment necessary to make informed decisions, and that responsibility necessarily devolves to the parents or other similar caretakers. At least some of the time, this judgment is sufficient and beneficial for those it is intended to serve.
And sometimes it emphatically is not. A recent entry in Seth Andrews’ Thinking Atheist podcast recounted multiple stories where, either because of their parents’ commitment or their own indoctrination with dubious religious practices … well, there’s no polite way to say this: kids DIE. What’s worse, the vast majority of the time, there was no rational need or justification for their deaths. Seth led off his program with the story of one Robin Twitchell, whose pained cries one day were answered by his parents not with traditional medical intervention but “treatments” by practitioners of Christian Science, combined with prescribed forced feeding. Four days later, Robin died, and an autopsy revealed peritonitis, plus a twisted bowel. The parents were subsequently charged and convicted of manslaughter, though the state supreme court overturned the verdict on a technicality. Even with that, there was a notation in the ruling on the necessity of parents’ providing proper medical care for their children, regardless of their religious beliefs.
After that followed the story of Dennis Lindbergh
A 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness was stricken with lymphocytic leukemia. Dennis underwent chemotherapy for cancer, but because of his belief, he refused the blood transfusions which are meant to correct the anemia which usually accompanies that therapy. Despite court battles between his guardian aunt and biological parents regarding those transfusions, Dennis was ruled fit to make his own decisions regarding his medical treatment. Not long after that decision, Dennis succumbed to leukemia.
There have been too many stories like these all over the news, numbering in the hundreds. Such reports may be about kids who are denied care because of their parents’ or guardians’ religious beliefs, kids getting diseases because of the unfounded fears of vaccines, or those who have been so indoctrinated in religious nonsense that they act against their own best interests in deference to a non-existent deity. What is even more disturbing is that state laws vary widely regarding children’s rights, from strong support for protecting them to near indifference, and there are few if any federal statutes covering such issues. The effective result is that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” looks like a given for adults, while minors catch as catch can.
I came to the conclusion long ago that indoctrinating children with religion before they were intellectually capable of evaluating it for themselves amounted to child abuse.
The fact of a minor’s inability to get proper medical care in the face of religious stupidity adds injury to insult, and I can’t help but notice that, once again, it is the atheists who are trying to come to the defense of those who cannot defend themselves. Whether the “suffer the little children” bible quote was a mistranslation or not, they have been subjected to far more than enough pain and death because of Iron Age beliefs. The clichéd phrase here is: “For the sake of the kids.” Indeed, with their well-being in mind, we need to put an end to religious interventions which have no efficacy and to “treatments” that aren’t for the sake of those who are not empowered to decide for themselves.
One ray of hope in the midst of all of this is Rita Swan, featured in the above-mentioned podcast and founder of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty or CHILD, Inc. Ms. Swan is fighting the good fight against deleterious religious practices inflicted on children and those laws on the books which legitimize such practices. She and her organization deserve your attention and, if you can afford it, your financial support.