“And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague” Mark 5:25-29
I like this story in Mark because it talks about the power of faith. Later in the story Jesus seeks out the woman in the crowd and complements her by saying that it wasn’t Him, but her faith that made her whole.
Faith and healing in modern times, however, is a much touchier subject.
The recent case in Minnesota of a child diagnosed with Hodgekins Disease raises a lot of questions about individual rights versus government rights.
I think it is easiest if you extract religion out of it for a moment and simply discuss what choices an individual has.
So should the government have the right to lock up an individual who has a communicable disease?
In general, I think that the simple answer is yes. People should not be allowed to infect other people. The more complex answer, however, is that in practical terms the government doesn’t have the ability to exercise this right on any sort of a widespread basis. Swine flu and AIDS are only a couple of examples. So, though the government has the right, it has very limited ability to exercise that right.
Backing up from there, should the government have the right to intervene and prescribe care for someone who is unable to declare for themselves the sort of care they need?
This is the Terry Schiavo case. The answer from the courts is no. The next closest relative has the right to determine care (or lack thereof) for an adult who can’t decide for themselves, hasn’t left any instructions for the court, and is otherwise in a persistent vegetative state.
Backing up from there, should the government have the right to prevent an adult from enlisting the aide of someone else in order to end their own life?
The courts here say yes. State governments can prohibit or allow assisted suicide.
Backing up from there, should the government limit the medical choices an individual has?
Here the courts say yes. The government has the responsibility to determine what is effective and what isn’t. As a result, individuals have had to go to other countries to get treatments that are illegal here. Clearly there are a lot of issues here. Acupuncture is just one example of an ancient technique that has only recently been accepted by western medicine as effective.
Finally we get to parents and children. The government has a responsibility to oversee the sort of care children receive. So parental rights can only be exercised to the boundaries that the government has described. If parents or legal guardians step over those boundaries, the state can assume custody of the child in an effort to protect them.
One example is whether or not the government should have the right to require children to be immunized?
Again the courts here are fairly clear. In the interests of public health, the government has mandated that children who associate with other unrelated children (school, athletics, etc.) have to be immunized. The greater good here is to prevent outbreaks of childhood diseases and also take steps to eradicate those diseases. The reality is that there is some risk to the injections and those whose parents opt out of immunization only endanger themselves and any other children who have opted out. So as long and the bulk of the adolescent population is immunized, the risks are small.
The government is in a difficult position because they have an obligation to step in where there is evidence of neglect. The challenge in the MN case is that they law has no way of measuring how much the parents love their child, how much the child loves the spiritual concepts that his parents espouse, and what his ability is to really understand the potential consequences of his actions. The court also has no way of knowing how effective the treatment he has chosen will be, so they can only decide based on the opinions of medical professionals who are only familiar with conventional medicine.
The bottom line is that we are dealing with the challenges of the human patterning the divine. Human laws will never reflect the wisdom of the divine. Human constructs work fine most of the time. It is the exceptions to the commonplace where they fail very badly.
In the case of the MN boy, the physician has intervened and offered to expand his treatment to include some of the methods the parents were seeking as well as the more conventional course of chemotherapy. The boy and his mother returned home agreed to follow the direction of the court.