Should Children Be Taught "Fringe" Beliefs?
The law should not allow parents to deny their children medical care.
This is not a Q1 violation unless you believe that parental rights are inalienable or that medical decisions should be left to individuals.
This is not a Q2 violation unless you object to others making decisions about how you raise your children or about what medical practices are effective.
Most people would agree that parents are primarily responsible for their children’s medical care. Most people would also agree that, at some point, parents should be considered negligent if their child is not receiving adequate medical care or is not in a healthy environment. Difficulty arises because there are a number of competing philosophies regarding what "adequate medical care" means.
For instance, some people believe that parents should only be allowed to choose among medical practices that have been scientifically investigated. Others believe that historical or "alternative" medical practices are also valid, regardless of whether they have been shown scientifically to be viable. Still others believe that any disease other than a broken bone can be overcome with faith, or that prayer can heal anything. And, of course, many people use more than one of these beliefs in some combination.
So before we decide whether or not a child should be taken from its parents’ care because of lack of medical care, we have to decide on a definition of "medical care" that is sufficient for these purposes. By Q2, you would probably want to set the bar high enough that relatively minor disagreements do not lead to major consequences — for example, you wouldn’t want your child taken away because you didn’t say a prayer for the healing of her skinned knee, gave him homeopathic medicine for a mild headache, or gave him acetaminophen when an anti-inflammatory analgesic would have been more effective. But the bar should be low enough that extremes are dealt with— a severed artery must be immediately treated medically, particularly since no parent has ever seen such an injury heal without some kind of assistance.
One way to set the bar would be to look at different methods of treating serious conditions and see if there are significant differences in their expected efficacy. For example, if 80% of children recover from a life-threatening disease using treatment A and 10% recover using treatment B, you might agree that it is irresponsible to prefer treatment B if both treatments have similar risks. This reasoning is fine so long as, by Q1, you continue to use it even when treatment B is preferable to you for personal reasons.
Other things to consider:
- What about parents who reject certain treatments (e.g., those derived from animals) for philosophical reasons?
- Can parents be held responsible for tragic consequences if it can be shown that they sincerely believed they were helping their child?
- Can parents be held responsible for tragic consequences if it can be shown that they had more than sufficient evidence that their philosophy or belief is wrong but remained unconvinced?
- What if literature promoting a fringe medical practice is copious and compelling to many people, but wrong?
- Does it matter if the parents’ beliefs are unpopular or "weird"?
- At what age is a child old enough to responsibly decide to risk siding with its family’s decisions?
- Should parents only use objective criteria to judge medical practices, or is subjective criteria also acceptable (e.g., "it feels right")?
- Can criteria other than effectiveness be used (e.g., how natural the treatment is, how nice the doctor is, cost, tradition)?
- Should a procedure with a low success rate be forced on a child?
- What if there is a reasonable chance the child will recover without treatment?
- What if the family doesn’t think a treatment is immoral but just thinks that the doctor is wrong?
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.