Doctors save teenage boy’s life against his will.

This is a conundrum to me:

Doctors from Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick made an urgent application to the Supreme Court to help them save the boy, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who is fighting Hodgkin’s disease.

In a judgment handed down on March 28, Justice Ian Gzell immediately ordered a blood transfusion after doctors said the 17-year-old’s life depended on it.

Justice Gzell noted his orders “may only extend (the boy’s) life for 10 months – when he becomes an adult and may stop the treatment”.

“The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual,” he said.

The boy, who cannot be identified, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in January last year. He is a “devoted” follower of the religion and Justice Gzell found him to be “cocooned in that faith”.

The boy told doctors he did not want to be given blood, even in an “emergency”, and that if he was forcibly transfused while sedated it would be like being “raped”.

On the one hand, I respect the autonomy of adults, and I think 17 is getting damn close to adulthood if not there already.  (Children, on the other hand, don’t get to die because their parents filled their heads with self-destructive lies)  However, we don’t let delusional people make their own medical calls.  Take away the Jesus and how is this boy different from somebody suffering a dangerous reality break?  I mean, if somebody got dragged into the hospital and refused a life saving procedure because the martians wouldn’t let him on their spaceship, we’d not only give them the procedure under sedation but we’d also commit them.  Why do we switch gears all of a sudden when it’s not martians but a 2,000 year old dead guy who won’t let him into his ghost kingdom?  At least aliens are fairly likely to exist somewhere…

And I can see the initial appeal of the rape analogy.  However, I don’t think anybody’s ever raped another person to save their life.  I think it’d be more like yanking a person who’s tripping balls away from the edge of a cliff even though they really want to fly.

Bottom line: well-meaning parents have contaminated an innocent life – the life of their son.  They will probably have ended his life in another 10 months.  And what do you bet they’ve uttered the words “You should respect my beliefs” at one point or another?  I will not respect anything that can take two loving parents and turn them into murderers.

And what’s more, I will not respect any belief that’s equally silly, but just doesn’t include the particular stupidity about blood transfusions.  These parents aren’t wrong because they didn’t properly listen to the 2,000 year dead Jew.  It’s not like the idea of someone rising from the dead whose dad wanted followers to kill anybody who worked on Saturday makes perfect sense, but commanding someone to deny a particular life-saving procedure?  Well that’s just bonkers.

All Christians, Muslims, and other believers shouldn’t adopt the same sin of these parents as virtue, and that sin is believing stupid, stupid things through faith.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • badgersdaughter

    I wish I could agree with you but I’m stuck on two things:
    - The 18th birthday is an arbitrary bright line and I can’t say that someone 10 months shy of the line is really less mature than someone 10 months over it. I know plenty of kids, including a 20-year-old I wouldn’t let out of sight, and a 16-year-old who I’d feel reasonably comfortable allowing to speak for me in a medical emergency. I can’t say the 17-year-old in this case isn’t capable of deciding for himself.
    - What about that bodily autonomy thing? I can imagine waking up after a procedure to find that my very body was full of a substance that was abhorrent to me and that I fought to avoid, that I could never get rid of, and that would essentially damn me. I’m not religious, but it seems a bit like going to the pub and having something slipped in my drink, and waking up later to find that I’d been impregnated by a stalker while unconscious and would lose the love of my husband and the respect of my family because of it. Maybe “rape” is the wrong word, but damn, it’s close.

    • RowanVT

      Being damned, even though he did all he could to avoid getting a transfusion, just shows his God is an asshole. If your husband stopped loving you because you were raped, and your family lost respect for you… they would also be assholes.

      However, I also agree that as 17 he should be able to make that (albeit stupid) choice about his medical care.

      • badgersdaughter

        I agree with you on every point. He has undoubtedly heard good, scientific information on his condition and has chosen to reject it. It’s his religion making the choice, not him. I think it is dreadful that the boy is likely to be a casualty of his religion, as certainly as if he was lying on an Aztec altar with a priest raising a knife over him.

    • Christine

      I agree that 18 is an arbitrary line (and the fact that a minor in a case like this who is seeking emancipated minor status is almost certain not to get it is a problem). But there needs to be a line somewhere.

      It’s a really difficult situation, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution.

  • badgersdaughter

    I should say that I’m probably missing something here and I’m thinking with my emotions, and I certainly do not expect to be agreed with. I just kind of wanted to comment. Thanks.

    • JT Eberhard

      No, you gave good arguments and have the same misgivings as I.
      It’s a very grey area. It’s difficult to weigh those things against punishing the boy permanently for the failures of his parents.

  • Glodson

    I don’t know exactly how I feel about this. He should have the right to decide what to do. Hell, I’m big into the right to die. Sadly, he just might elect to do so in 10 months. And while his belief is entirely irrational and harmful, there’s not much we can do about that. Until religion is classified as a type of delusion in which people can intercede, this isn’t going to change.

    I am stuck on this as I see it as nothing be a lose-lose situation. The can let him die and respect his bodily autonomy. Or they can force him to stay alive despite his wishes. Yes, they are entirely irrational and unfounded, but is that enough for a legal intervention? I hate the fact that it seems this 17 year old has about 10 months to live thanks to his religion.

    And what do you bet they’ve uttered the words “You should respect my beliefs” at one point or another? I will not respect anything that can take two loving parents and turn them into murderers.

    Fuck respecting beliefs. In the end, as you note, his beliefs should not be respected. His beliefs should be criticized and torn apart as the vicious superstitions they are. They hurt people. They poison them. They make something harmful and deadly into a point of martyrdom. It is scary and sickening. His parents likely love him, but they gave him this death sentence with an unneeded belief.

    I won’t respect his beliefs. But, I guess, there’s not much I can do but try and show others how dangerous beliefs can be. I can respect his bodily autonomy, but I have nothing but scorn for his religion that turns its back on medicine.

    • wierdo

      retard wow you are an idiot

      • Glodson

        Nice response. It is well reasoned and thought out.

        That was sarcasm. I want to make that clear, given how stupid you seem to be.

        We have a teen dying, a teen with a belief that commands him to not use a treatment. It is sickening. But at a point, one cannot force him to accept the treatments. As sickening as I find his beliefs. There’s no legal recourse, and there’s even a dodgy moral justification for denying him his right to choose that happens to his own body.

        Now, I’m sure you’ll explain your objections to my position. Or is it about not respecting religious belief? If that’s the case, fuck your stupid superstitions.

      • BabyRaptor

        Looking in the mirror?

        • Loqi

          That would explain why he got the ‘i’ and the ‘e’ backward.

          • Glodson

            Who wants to take odds that random idiot here explains what was even meant by the statement? I’ve been waiting to see just what the objection is.

      • Carina

        The pure eloquence of your first response amazes me (/sarcasm). Looking forward to your explanation as requested by Glodson. Please wierdo – we need a good laugh.

  • Trick Question

    Until we start to classify faith in the ridiculous as a mental illness, things like this will keep happening, and people will keep dying because they fear eternal punishment more than they allow themselves to determine reality. At 17 he does have the rational awareness to know what is what, though the taint of his parental and community teachings still remain. Should we stand by and allow them to keep choosing death over life because of them? Where does the respect line between what people think and what is best for them lie?
    As much as we can’t impose our wills on them, we can’t watch everything they do and tell them they’re wrong each time we see it. things like this may slowly bring things to light, but until people on a large scale start to reject them, from within, they will continue.

  • smrnda

    I think the trouble with trying to find an analogy is that in the sane, rational world, blood transfusions are as innocuous as food and water. If the kid was lying down in a desert dying of thirst nobody would be wondering if getting him hydrated would be an affront to bodily autonomy, and if the guy came to and was outraged that water was forced on him, we’d think he was nuts or would suspect him of being suicidal. If I think of slipping something in someone’s drink, it’s clearly deceptive, predatory and malicious and could never have any positive value. Doing some bizarre medical experiment on somebody can be unethical since it’s deceptive and would knowingly cause harm. In a way, this case seems more like a case where a doctor is trying to stop a patient from killing himself – we violate the person’s bodily autonomy in the interest of their survival.

  • Silent Service

    Something to think about here. Rape is a horrible thing because it is an unwanted violation of your personal self. Obviously, if it is wanted it is not a violation or likely to be a horrible experience. This forced transfusion is just that, and unwanted violation of the patient’s personal self. You may not think of it as being a bad thing because it is a lifesaving procedure, but you really have to put yourself into the patient’s place and into his mindset.

    I do think that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are deluded, but it is their delusion and their right to believe what they want. Based on their beliefs, forcing a blood transfusion on a Jehovah’s Whiteness really would feel emotionally and personally like rape. Considering this from the patient’s personal point of view, I would have to definitely say that this is the wrong course of action.

    • Artor

      This might be a good point, except that I cannot think of anyone, ever, in any situation, who has needed to be raped because they would die otherwise. That right there tells me this is a false analogy.

      • Sids

        But in his mind, the real life is when he dies. To give him the transfusion would/might (whatever his exact beliefs are) deny him that life. In that sense he kinda does die if he gets the transfusion and lives if he doesn’t.

  • Loqi

    Well this is an interesting moral conundrum, isn’t it? The thought of sedating someone and then doing something to their body that they didn’t want done, thus violating their bodily autonomy, makes me retch (though the retching may be the flu bug currently violating *my* bodily autonomy). In order to make me ok with this, I’d need to know that the patient was in some way incapable of making decisions about his own body. You could certainly argue that his beliefs on the subject are essentially the same as a mental illness. But I’m not sure about that. Is having your brain filled with faulty premises the same as having a brain with faulty processes? They can both lead to poor decisions, but it’s hard to argue that the person with the faulty premises is actually incapable of making the decision. I could be wrong about that, and if anyone has some science to show that the two are essentially the same, my answer would change. At present, I say respect his wishes. And fuck his religion.

    • Loqi

      On further contemplation, my premise/process distinction over simplifies mental illness, which is too broad of a concept to be so easily defined. I regret doing it. The religion-addled brain is difficult to compare to a brain with a “mental illness” without specifying which mental illness.

      • badgersdaughter

        OK, here’s how I think of it. There’s no reason to think that there is any biological reason why the young man’s ability to think is compromised. If he were to use his experiences, his emotions, and the information at his disposal to freely choose to leave his religion, we would tend to think of that as a good thing even if it cost him everything else in his life… relationships, job, position in society. However, now that he is using his experiences, emotions, and information to make a costly choice we don’t like, we have to force him to make the choice we do like? Beware of this, it’s tyranny.

        • Loqi

          Caution: non-biologist pretending to be one ahead. Chance of wrongness higher than usual.
          I agree that we need to be damn certain we aren’t becoming the tought police, which is why I prefer to assume competence unless we can prove otherwise. But I do quibble with your statement that there’s no biological reason that his ability to think is compromised. Your experiences, your emotions, and everything that shapes you is somehow reflected in the biology of your brain. A brain that has been thoroughly indoctrinated is biologically different than it would be if it hadn’t been indoctrinated. The real question is whether indoctrination can reach the point where it renders the subject incompetent to make medical decisions. I don’t think it does, but we know so little of the brain that I’m not going to bet my house on it. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if, as our knowledge of the brain increases, we start to find that a thoroughly brainwashed brain and an ill brain can be more similar than we previously thought.

  • Nate Frein

    I have been raped.

    I have been involuntarily committed.

    I don’t think I ever felt quite the same terror and lasting violation from even forced medication that I did from the rape.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m alive today because I was forcibly committed as an adult. Why does a mental illness negate your choice, but not a (treatable) physical illness?

    • Loqi

      I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m alive today because I was forcibly committed as an adult. Why does a mental illness negate your choice, but not a (treatable) physical illness?

      I think of mental illness as a subtype of physical illness rather than as a completely separate type of illness, and that model makes that question a bit easier for me (though it’s still murky). I have a friend who has a bad shoulder, and he can’t raise his arm above his shoulder. If I went on a canoe trip with him, I would carry his canoe for him because of his shoulder. Because part of him doesn’t work quite right, and some of the functions of that part become difficult, if not impossible. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think of a brain the same way. If it is sick in such a way that it cannot perform a specific function, it may require outside help for certain tasks (making medical decisions, in this case). Of course, a brain is a hell of a lot more complex than a shoulder, and identifying when help is required is difficult, to say the least. That’s the troubling part for me. Where’s that line?

      • Nate Frein

        Suppose your friend insisted on trying to carry the canoe himself, even though he stood a good chance of being injured? Would you intervene?

        • Loqi

          No. But I don’t think that is analogous. In my friend’s case, he’d be using a neurotypical brain to decide that he wants to (probably) harm himself. In the other case, he’d be using a sick brain to decide he wants to harm himself. His ability to decide what he wants is the function in question.

  • Glodson

    Why does a mental illness negate your choice, but not a (treatable) physical illness?

    The only justification I can think is that a mental illness puts one in a position where they cannot make an informed decision. Treating the mental illness might require negating a choice. But what of someone of sound mind with a bad belief? When do we get to decide what is best for someone in reasonable control of their facilities?

    I have no indication that this young man isn’t of sound mind. He’s been brought up in a religion and had a horrifying attitude normalized through religion. As such, there might not be a basis to negate his choice based on mental illness. We can see how silly his belief is, and how it will harm him, but is this enough to ignore his wishes?

    I think many of us are feeling conflicted about this.

    • Nate Frein

      But what does “sound mind” mean?

      Can we really consider a person “of sound mind” when they seek to forgo lifesaving treatment for a temporary condition? Is this kid any different from someone with Crohn’s Disease? Or severe Asthma or Diabetes? From my (very limited) understanding of hodkin’s is that it can be managed, especially if caught early.

      Would you consider me of “sound mind” if I decided to stop taking my Asthma medication because the Flying Spaghetti Monster told me that pirates don’t use inhalers? Would you respect my refusal to go to the emergency room despite the fact that I’m suffering from a potentially fatal asthma attack?

      So why does religion get the pass here?

      • Glodson

        Because it isn’t a recognized mental disorder. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We cannot ignore that religious beliefs are reinforced by society.

        As others noted, it is one thing to have a biological affliction which renders one incapable of being responsible for their own actions. That happens. And some people are not so afflicted and still reject the rational choice. A person who buys into New Age nonsense and faith healing bullshit is doing so out of a bad belief and ignorance. How can we stop them without robbing them of their rights?

        Would you consider me of “sound mind” if I decided to stop taking my Asthma medication because the Flying Spaghetti Monster told me that pirates don’t use inhalers? Would you respect my refusal to go to the emergency room despite the fact that I’m suffering from a potentially fatal asthma attack?

        First, is this a usual religious belief established by a community and drilled into your head since childbirth? Of course not. Just declaring something to be a religious belief isn’t sufficient. Second, if you just up and declared this randomly, I would have reasons to doubt your mental health. Again, this doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If the teen here had just up and decided the treatment was against his religious beliefs even after years of the treatment, there would be room for doubt concerning the state of his mental health.

        Finally, what legal recourse would I have? How could I make you do something you decided against? Unless I have evidence that you are mentally ill, how can I justify forcing you to go to the ER? At what point do I get to decide what I think is best for you?

        Now, my argument isn’t that religion should get a free pass. It shouldn’t. We should see the harm it does, we should call it out. But can we force the boy to ignore his own religious beliefs? Can we force medicine onto someone who is legally an adult and not suffering form a mental illness?

        • Nate Frein

          I’m going to start by saying “I don’t know”. I’m posting these thoughts because the thoughts trouble me. I think the post triggered me a bit so I may very well not be as coherent as I should be. In the end this is all kind of intellectual masturbation on my part. I don’t even know where I stand on the issue. I’m alive because of forced treatment. Is my life better because I’m alive? I don’t know. Have I made other people’s lives better? I don’t know.

          This is such a muddy subject. Why do we make a distinction between refusal of care and suicide when the result is the same: The deliberate ending of your own life?

        • Nate Frein

          And, suppose we swap the situation a bit.

          Suppose the child grew up in a wonky Amish cult where, if you weren’t married by the time you hit 25, you were considered worthless and should kill yourself. Suppose she hits 25 and no one has proposed, so she goes off to attempt suicide and is found by an outsider during the act. Should she be committed? Is she actually suffering from a mental illness?

          • Glodson

            Honestly, I don’t know.

            Like you said, what do we do with this belief? It is an irrational belief, but one normalized by religion to the point that a sane mind won’t always think of it as faulty.

            Now, the hypothetical Amish situation isn’t quite the same. The boy here is going let himself die despite having a treatment that can save his life. The woman in your case is actually going to kill herself directly. Do we intervene in the case of a hunger strike? It is plausible that said person faces a real risk if it goes on long enough. They are going to do harm to themselves.

            Or how about this? Do we force a woman who is dead set against abortion for religious reasons to get an abortion which would save her life in the case of a Ectopic pregnancy? This is a medical procedure that will save her life, but she wants to refuse it out of her religious beliefs.

            This is such a muddy subject. Why do we make a distinction between refusal of care and suicide when the result is the same: The deliberate ending of your own life?

            I suppose the question is why are people doing this. We have a justification, both legal and moral, in interceding if the person seeking to harm themselves is not in a state in which they can understand the consequences of their actions. Suicides are acts done without a chance to to interview the person before hand. Best to err on the side of caution, and it is extremely likely that this person is suffering from a mental illness at the time. Meanwhile, if one denies medical treatment, friends and family have a chance to have this person’s mental state examined. If it is deemed that this person is not capable of making an informed decision about their health, intercession can be possible.

            Now, of course, this isn’t easy. We can concoct scenarios all day. There is a question about at which point can a person not be trusted to make a decision concerning their treatment.

            Where is that line? What changes in 10 months for this kid? I don’t know, except it is likely he’ll be off the treatment in 10 months. If this were a case where it was a one time transfusion, maybe my take on this case would be different. I honestly don’t know.

            In the end, this is a nightmare. This isn’t a kid with terminal cancer who wants to die with dignity. This isn’t a kid who signed a living will. This is a kid who was brought up with an irrational superstition. It was hammered into him to the point that it was normalized. He doesn’t see the problem. Religion helped a boy who doesn’t appear to have any mental health issues warranting an intercession on his behalf rationalize an insane decision that will cost him his life.

            What do we even do with that?

          • Nate Frein

            What do we even do with that?

            Evangelical Skepticism?

          • Glodson

            Evangelical Skepticism?

            In the long run, yes.

            In the long run, we take away this spell that religion has over us. We take away that protection. We teach critical thinking skills. We don’t let this shit continue.

            In the short term, in a term that will be useful for those brought up burdened by this nonsense? I don’t think there’s much we can do other than keep criticizing and hope a few listen.

  • Silent Service

    It is certainly tragic that this young man would chose to decline a lifesaving medical treatment. However, I believe that many of the people here would argue in favor of assisted suicide as a legal right. Looking at this situation, the only real issue is that the patient is 17. If he were 18 and suffering from cancer, even if operable, and wanted to commit suicide many here would be arguing that this should be allowed as the patient should have that right if he chooses. The patient being only 17 and having a treatable condition does seem to freak some of us out. Some, including the judge in this case, want to treat the patient like a child. Others point out that he is basically an adult but for an arbitrary line drawn in legal books.
    The real issue is does this patient have the mental capacity to comprehend his choice? Is he making this choice with full understanding of the ramifications of that choice? If the procedure in question is imposed upon the patient will the doctors be causing irreparable and traumatic harm to the patient mentally or physically? We can certainly say that it unlikely to cause irreparable physical harm, but it is very likely to be a traumatic and devastating event mentally that, given the patients beliefs, cannot ever be recovered from. I hate the idea of letting this young man die, but making him live in a state of self-destructive mental shock just to assuage our squeamishness over the idea of a child dying is horribly self-serving. The medical creed is, “Do no harm.” Can you honestly say that doing something to a person against their will which they believe will condemn them to hell for all eternity will not likely be irreparably harmful? I can’t.

    • Niveau

      Witnesses don’t believe in hell, at least not the way other Christians do. According to their beliefs, if he receives a blood transfusion and dies before Armageddon, as long as he did everything he could to fight against receiving that transfusion, he’s fine. If he doesn’t die before Armageddon and did fight against it, there’s still a chance that god may be okay with what happened and that he won’t be punished. The worst that can happen is that he doesn’t die before Armageddon and god isn’t okay with how everything went down: in that case, he would die forever, with no chance of resurrection to life on a paradise earth, the end. No torture, just nothingness.

  • invivoMark

    I might have a different opinion if the treatment weren’t specifically a blood transfusion.

    As a minor, this person doesn’t get to make his own medical decisions. 18 may be an arbitrary line, but it’s the one we’ve drawn.

    But seriously, I hear there are people in Boston who could put that blood to better use right now.

  • Niveau

    It’s interesting for me to read about cases like this now, because I spent the first twenty years of my life as a Jehovah’s Witness and, at 17, my faith was strong enough that I probably would’ve said the same kind of stuff this kid is saying. And at 17, I’d have been sure that I was making a reasonable, rational decision, one that non-Witnesses couldn’t understand because they were being misled by Satan. I spent a huge part of my life being terrified that I’d have some kind of accident or illness and end up in a situation in which I’d have to fight against doctors who’d want to give me a blood transfusion. It’s hard to describe the terror of having this happen that Witnesses constantly teach their kids. So on the one hand, I get where this kid is coming from, and that he has thought his stand through, and that bodily autonomy is very important.

    On the other hand, a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness is not the same as someone that age in another religion, or who grew up secular. The Witnesses are a high-control group who strictly control the information kids growing up in the cult have access to, who they associate with, and who teach parents how to train their children to think a certain way. If he’s 17 and has been living with his Witness parents his whole life, he doesn’t fully understand what’s involved in this choice – he can’t, not really, as he’s been spoon-fed pro-Witness doctrine and held back from anything that contradicts it his entire life. He’s grown up in a bubble, shielded from the real world and from critical thinking, and I really do have to question his ability to make an informed decision about taking a blood transfusion.

    Which is to say, I’m very unsure about what I think should happen in cases like these, but can’t fall wholeheartedly on the side of “bodily autonomy and ability to make his own decisions by that age!” because I know too damn much about where he’s at right now.

  • Jonathan

    Tell me again how religion makes people better. Literally: the analogy to health is just perfect.

    If rather lacking in compassion, I submit that the sole purpose of his life may be to serve as a warning to others.

  • John Horstman

    As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder and has contemplated (and come close to attempting) suicide, I can appreciate the desire to save people from their own judgement when their thinking mechanisms are broken. That said, I think the right to bodily autonomy still trumps that desire – we have to allow people to make decisions we think are terrible (and to make those decisions for what we consider to be poor, irrational, even delusional reasons), else we’re not really allowing for autonomy, just drawing the limits of acceptability somewhere other than those who favor forced pregnancy or slavery. It would make others sad if the boy died – he’d be dead, so there would be no good or bad resulting from his death as far as he is concerned. Contravening someone else’s agency for the sake of our own preferences or desires and not theirs is not okay, even to save that someone’s life.

    Also, if any of yall are ever using hallucinogens and don’t want to kill yourselves, ask the people around you to prevent you from doing so if it becomes a possibility. That resolves the ethical issue in that example.

  • Sids

    Interestingly, if his god is really a top chap, the boy won’t be punished for what was forced on him, rather he would only suffer for it if he takes it willingly. So for him to act like he doesn’t want it, while still having it forced on him would be the best possible outcome. In that sense, he might be secretly dreading his 18th birthday.

    • Loqi

      I believe they are still allowed into heaven if the blood transfusion was performed against their will. As long as they fought it to the best of their ability, they’re still ok.

      • Anonymous Atheist

        Perfect – everybody wins! ;-)

      • Nathan Piccolo

        Actually no, he doesn’t get into heaven.

        He may however have “his heart’ judged by jehovah to be “fit” and and allowed to live forever on the paradise earth after armageddon or the resurrection that follows armageddon.

  • David Johnson

    Relevant quote:
    Jeffrey Sinclair: “Who asked you to play God?”
    Franklin: “Every damn patient who comes through that door, that’s who. People come to doctors because they want us to be gods. They want us to make it better…or make it not so. They want to be healed and they come to me when their prayers aren’t enough. Well, if I have to take the responsibility, then I claim the authority too. I did good. And we both know it. And no one is going to take that away.”
    Babylon 5

  • gwen

    Were he a 17 year old who had gone through years of treatment for a recurring cancer, he would have been allowed to say ‘enough’, and stop the treatments. He would be counseled to make sure he understood the ramifications of his decision, and if he did, he would be allowed to stop treatments. I don’t understand what the difference is here. If he understands the results of the (lack of) treatment, no matter how heinous the thinking process, he should be allowed to make the choice.

    • M

      Perhaps, perhaps not. We draw a pretty bright line between childhood and adulthood, even though it is artificial. That would definitely make it much harder to determine the most ethical choice, though. Still, he’s not turning down treatment because he’s afraid of it, or doesn’t want to live, or has bad quality of life. He’s turning down treatment because of a superstition about receiving blood from someone else. We don’t consider fear of needles, fear of doctors, fear of aliens in the hospital vent system, faith in prayer, faith in witch doctors, or other superstitions to be legitimate reasons to refuse treatment to children, and we think they’re pretty stupid when they’re an adult’s reasons for themselves. Why does this boy get a pass because he’s Christian-y instead of voodoun or a recent immigrant from a witch-doctor culture that teaches distrust of the medical establishment?

      • Constance Reader

        “Why does this boy get a pass because he’s Christian-y instead of voodoun or a recent immigrant from a witch-doctor culture that teaches distrust of the medical establishment?”

        You may an interesting point, and I wonder if it couldn’t be a valid basis for a legal challenge for refusal, although it would probably be most effective if the patient in question were an actual child and not an adult for most intents and purposes. A bit OT but out of curiosity, does the patient live in a state when 17 year olds can legally marry without parental consent? That would be one hell of a contradiction, being legally able to consent to marriage but not medical treatment.

        • M

          I checked Wikipedia for this one, since I have absolutely no idea on Australia’s age of consent laws. For marriage, the age of consent is 18. There is a clause allowing for marriage as young as 16 if you petition a judge and the judge authorizes it, but only under extraordinary circumstances.

          • Constance Reader

            Thanks, M. In many U.S. states a person can marry legally at 17 or 16, but younger than that they need parental consent.

  • Constance Reader

    Whenever I read stories like this my hyperrational brain always hits the same wall: We love our child so much we we want them dead.

    We love our child too much to allow them to grow up, fall in love, get married, have children of their own, know the joys and tears of university, of drinking legally, of making mistakes and learning from them, of seeing the world, of seeing an R rated movie, of all the accomplishments we enjoy every day of our adult lives.

    I can never get beyond that. Never.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    I have to side with bodily autonomy. If someone doesn’t want something done to their body, particularly something that the lack of which would only directly affect themself, the reasons they don’t want it shouldn’t matter. Even if they aren’t reasons we agree with, the person still should have the ability to control their own body, rather than live haunted by that violation of what the totality of their life experiences had instilled in them to want or not want.

    The obvious analogy is to pregnancy/abortion. And here’s something else this post reminded me of:

    There was an episode of the ‘House MD’ fictional TV show a few years ago that featured a teenage girl who was a prodigy at sailing boats. She wanted to set a record as the youngest person to sail around the world or something like that. But she developed some medical problem that was likely to slowly kill her if her arm wasn’t amputated. She decided she wanted to go on her record-setting sail while she still could, and fulfill her dream despite the potential consequences. But the doctors convinced her parents to overrule her wishes and sign the consent for the amputation. They slipped her the anesthesia, and when she woke up after the surgery and realized her arm was gone, the look on her face….. :(

  • Nathan Piccolo

    Having been raised a jehovah’s witness for a little over 20 years, I have encountered this “No blood” issue a few times thus far in my life. I will probably see it again, unless my father finally leaves the religion as the rest of my family has.

    I ended up making a blog post response to this article here:

  • Shane

    I have a friend that is very religious and he tries to convert me from Atheism all of the time, and I tell him that he needs to look at his religion critically and see if he really believes it still (he’s told me over and over he’s accepting it on faith and any contradiction in his religion I bring up doesn’t matter). Then he’s asked “what does someone believing in a religion do to harm anything?” Well things like this are a perfect example of how you can destroy your life with religion.

  • Thumper1990

    “Take away the Jesus and how is this boy different from somebody suffering a dangerous reality break?”

    Why is it necessary to take Jesus out of the equation before making that comparison?

    • Glodson

      Because religion is a delusion normalized by society.