The law has developed and adapted over time in response to the social norms and issues relevant to the prevailing culture and age. I can only speak with any authority in relation to modern-day English law and English lawyers, but some observations are fairly universal, one of which is that, by and large, lawyers are fairly simple creatures. In so far as is possible we like things to be ‘black and white’ and we look with admiration on those who can explain and define the law with clarity. For example:
Every person being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body
An adult who … suffers from no mental incapacity has an absolute right to choose whether to consent to treatment, to refuse it or to choose one rather than another of the treatments being offered … this right of choice is not limited to decisions which others might regard as sensible.
But we live in a complicated world, and the Courts are faced with a seemingly infinite variety of practical circumstances in which these apparently straightforward principles have to be applied. Hence, it must be possible to define what is meant in practice by ‘adult’ and ‘mental capacity’ and how those principles should be applied to children. In short, who is able to give good consent to medical treatment?
Logically, such decisions should be left to the Medical Doctors as a rule, however thanks to negative influences of Christians sects from the United States, Evangelical, and Jehovah’s Witnesses we are experiencing in the UK an increase in Medical Child abuse because of religious faith.
Hardly surprising when one considers that in 2003, Federal Legislation “sanctioned” the killing of children by religious parents in the “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.” The act requires that states receiving federal grant dollars must include “failure to provide medical treatment” in their definition of child neglect. However, to placate the powerful Christian Science lobby and other fundamentalist groups, legislators included the following caveat: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.”
Only by a twisted, Christian fundamentalist logic — encouraged by a populist class of politicians — in an overly radicalized religious part of the United States, which is one Supreme Court vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade in order to protect the rights of an undifferentiated bundle of cells in a woman’s womb, can defenseless children be allowed to suffer and die because of the fanatical religious beliefs of their parents.
It is unfortunate that parents, who should love their children above all else, regard their faith in a God as more important than the lives of their own children. Between 1975 and 2010, 982 children died in the United States because their parents refused medical treatment on religious grounds. 910 of those children died from conditions which medical science had a 90 percent track record of curing.
The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect concluded, “There are more children actually being abused in the name of God than in the name of Satan.”
As Gerald Witt, mayor of Lake City, Florida, said about local faith-based deaths, “It may be necessary for some babies to die to maintain our religious freedoms. It may be the price we have to pay; everything has a price.”
That’s some price to pay! The sheer arrogance and presumption of such a statement is mind boggling.
As informed adults we are normally allowed to engage in behavior that could be considered harmful. Examples may include drinking, smoking, and a certain type of sporting activity We accept these activities notwithstanding their recognized danger and harmfulness, as perfectly legal and we do them because we are consenting adults. I for example don’t drink, but smoke and like to jump out of perfectly good aircrafts with a parachute on my back. I know very well that smoking is unhealthy, and yet I smoke, and like it! My parachute could fail to open and I could end up splattered in a Swiss meadow, and yet I still jump. However, I am a conscious adult that takes full responsibility for his actions.
Children don’t have that kind of discretion, that’s why it is incumbent on us the adults to love and protect them.
What I believe that most of us will concur with is that no one should force another to risk his/her life against their will. And that if you kill some one through such type of coercion you have committed Murder!!
Now, why am I writing this?
Well as most of friends know I am a lawyer and I was asked to prosecute a case (something I rarely do). I cannot go into much detail, either than to say that a two year old boy was denied medical treatment by his parents on religious grounds literally kidnapped from the hospital and that the parents called an exorcist to release him from the grips of the devil that now the child is dead. The original indictment was child neglect and endangerment under the Children Welfare Act 1998, but I had this changed at committal and now the charge is murder, which in the UK carries a mandatory life sentence. Why murder? Because killing a child in the name of some delusional religious conviction is an act of premeditated murder.
This case has touched me, shocked me and angered me and I will do everything I can to make sure that the Law makes them pay for this horrendous act, because such evil cannot go unchecked.
Luckily, unlike the United States, where from what I have been reading and discussing with American colleagues, I have learnt –to my horror- that it is legal to force one’s own children into dangerous and sometimes lethal stances because of religious convictions; such actions are illegal in most civilized countries.
Before I took this case I really had no idea on how wide spread is the killing of children by religious fundamentalists, and quite frankly it is nauseating. Example vary, but there are children that are killed because of normal everyday illnesses such as the mumps, bee stings or diabetes because their parents instead of calling a doctor or taking them to hospital like most sane and rational human beings, get on their knees and pray to some mythical God and the result is the death of the child.
In any criminal prosecution like in any criminal defense any lawyer has to study and try to understand not only the evidence, but the state of mind of the perpetrators. Luck as it, and I am glad that European case law as few examples of these particular type of crimes; while –not surprising- American case law is very rich and well documented on these tragic events.
I had no idea on how frequently these cases occur in the USA, and it shocks me! And what is more shocking is that the US allows in over 50 states religious exemption to child abuse or neglect and that 19 states permit a religious based defense to serious (felonies as they are called in the US) crimes against children. This was confirmed to me by a good friend and prominent attorney in the State of New York.
Some of the case literature he sent me is truly horrific, and quite frankly hadn’t it been sent to me by a lawyer I would have had trouble believing it. Young children stung by bees and left with no medical help for hours because the parents started praying, diabetic children anointed with oils and subject to prayer that could have been saved by a simple insulin injection.
Such absurd beliefs can only arise from the Old Testament, Exodus 15:22-27 “The Lord who heals you.” Or from those allegorical fantasies that are referred to as the Gospels attributed to Mark and Luke that define all doctors as inept charlatans, or that passage in the Epistles of James, where Jesus was supposed to have prescribed prayer and anointment with oil as the ultimate remedy for all bodily malfunctions. That people believe such garbage is bad enough but its their choice as consenting adults, but that children are slaughtered because of it is completely immoral and unacceptable.