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Re: Faith-healing manslaughter case on radio

Posted by Perry on April 04, 2008 at 16:30:25

In Reply to: Re: Faith-healing manslaughter case on radio posted by Ironsides on April 02, 2008 at 19:42:46:

A straight forward comparison of total numbers of people harmed, as you do in your argument, offers no justification for the crimes committed in the recent deaths of a 15 month old and 11 year old. Although you say you are not excusing sicko gurus, you do seem to be excusing the parents in those two cases (which is the same thing), by claiming those deaths “aren't so bad after all” when compared to all the deaths attributable to medical error or negligence. Small, belated comfort to those child victims.

Perhaps an analogy without a religious context will help show the weakness of your argument. Here I will compare basic medical care, which would have saved both those children, with a common basic safety measure. Suppose it can be shown that when seat belts or other proper restraints are used for children in motor vehicles, child death rates in motor vehicle accidents are lower than when they are not used. However, they do not save all lives of children who are in motor vehicle accidents because some accidents are simply not survivable by any means.

Suppose further that because seat belts and proper child restraints/seats do save some lives they become legally mandatory to use them. In other words, it becomes a crime not to use them and the law is generally accepted as good public safety policy. Now suppose that a parent refuses to accept that seat belts or child restraints save lives, and believes just the opposite, that they create a greater risk of harm. They justify their belief with the fact that seat restraints do not save all lives and many children are still killed in accidents despite the seat belt law. The parent, in violation of the law, leaves her child in the front seat, unrestrained and the child is killed, but not the parent, in an accident.

In that scenario, should the parent be charged and found guilty for negligently endangering her child? Or should she be cleared of any charges, or found innocent if charged, because she sincerely believed that seat belts endangered her child? If you believe she should be charged, what makes that any different from a person who relies on their religious beliefs when endangering their child? Is her sincere belief enough to excuse her from the law that everyone else must obey?

It should not be forgotten that what those parents did in those two cases is a crime. The fact that the particularly jurisdiction may have a religious exemption defense for the behavior does not mean a crime was not committed. It simply means that that jurisdiction allows a defendant to rely on their religious belief to attempt to excuse their criminal behavior. However, as the U.S. Supreme Court famously held, while parents may have the right to make religious martyrs of themselves, they do not have the right to make religious martyrs of their children. Parents do not own their children and have legal (and moral) obligations to ensure the rights, in this case medical rights, of their children.

To say, as you seem to do, that the deaths of those two children is not so bad compared to all the deaths attributable to doctors, is like saying the genocide in Rwanda was not so bad compared to the genocide of the Jews in Germany. Both are horrific crimes and one is not made less so, or made excusable, by the mere fact that the other had higher numbers.