Peddling Sectarian Agendas I

GROUPS: atheists, fundamentalists, religious parents, terminally ill children, medical professionals

The Journal of Medical Ethics has published an article titled Should religious beliefs be allowed to stonewall a secular approach to withdrawing and withholding treatment in children? calling religious parents “inhumane” by insisting that miracles would happen to their terminally ill children. These parents are said to advocate “aggressive therapies considered futile and burdensome by a wide range of medical and lay people …” and as such, parents desiring life sustaining mechanisms for their sick children should have legislative preference to be brought before a judge. The case report’s authors admit that this is “religion being legislated against.”

PART I

Enter the atheist Jonny Scaramanga of the blog Leaving Fundamentalism who uses this news release to continue his tradition of smearing fundamentalists. His post is titled: The promise of miracles tortures dying children.

Problem #1: He uses the word “torture” while the journal article uses the word “inhumane,” they’re not necessarily synonyms.

Problem #2: He states that miracles don’t happen then states that they do.

Compare this:

But that’s a problem when it comes to miracles, because unlike claims about the existence of God, or an afterlife, miracles are empirical. And they don’t happen.

with this:

Unexplained medical miracles may sometimes occur, but they are not significantly more likely to occur to evangelical Christians than other sections of the population.

Problem #3: He claims to be a former fundamentalist and that fundamentalists are not prepared to discuss their beliefs because they know that their beliefs are right.

I know the type of fundamentalist mentioned in the article well. They’re my old bunch:

……….

These are the people who go to Benny Hinn conventions. I spent my childhood with them. And they’re not prepared to discuss their beliefs. Of course they aren’t. They know they’re right.

This is a faulty extrapolation not to mention incorrect. Fundamentalists would condemn Benny Hinn, not go to his crusades. He thus conflates evangelicals with fundamentalists which a former fundamentalist would not do. The article he links to from the UK Telegraph (uses the word torture as well but in commas to blunt the pungent meaning) does state that there were 5 unresolved cases involving Christians.

Although the cases included Muslim, Jewish and Roman Catholic families, the biggest obstacle the authors said they faced were less established, “fundamentalist” evangelical Christian groups with roots in the African community.

“In the Christian groups who held fervent or fundamentalist views, the parents did not engage in exploration of their religious beliefs with hospital chaplains and no religious community leaders were available to attend meetings to help discuss or reconcile the differences,” they said. “The parents had their own views or interpretation of their religion and were not prepared to discuss these tenets.” Dr Petros said it appeared to be an increasingly common situation, with one or two such cases a year at the hospital alone.

But how does one go from 5 fundamentalist families to all fundamentalists being “not prepared to discuss their beliefs” because “They know they’re right”? One wonders if atheists would agree that all atheists are pedophiles if 5 atheist pedophiles could be found. And how does Dr. Petros know that the families were not open to discussion? Did they sign statements to that effect or are we to accept his hearsay?

Problem #4: Making claims that science cannot fulfill. [I am assuming for his sake that he would argue that science trumps religion].

Jonny states:

However much we have still to discover about our origins, we can definitely rule out a version of Creation in which there were three days and nights before God even made the sun.

Science cannot speak about the nature and/or the existence of God or anything supernatural even if it can postulate secular mechanisms for what are deemed by some to be supernatural. To say that we can definitely rule out the supernatural because of science is twaddle.

Problem #5: Exaggeration.

Over a 3 year period, there were 5 out of 203 cases (about 2.5% of applicable cases and less than 2 cases per year) which involved a miracle expecting fundamentalist family which firmly insisted on unnecessary treatment (from the doctor’s point of view of course). Does this really warrant much concern?

Does the definition of “inhumane” meet universal definitional standards or only liberal European standards?

From the Press Release:

They cite Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which aims to ensure that no one is subjected to torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

“Spending a lifetime attached to a mechanical ventilator, having every bodily function supervised and sanitised by a carer or relative, leaving no dignity or privacy to the child and then adult, has been argued as inhumane,” they argue.

Problem #6: Infantile Theological.

Jonny:

However much we have still to discover about our origins, we can definitely rule out a version of Creation in which there were three days and nights before God even made the sun.

Here he alludes to the common atheistic claim that there are inconsistencies in the supposed two creation accounts in the book of Genesis. He points to light or days (Genesis 1:4) existing before the sun (Genesis 1:16). Matthew Henry Commentary says that the first light was scattered and that the making of the sun was for the ordering of said light. This seems to be the case from the purpose attributed to the different lights (Genesis 1:15). Others claim that the first light was different and represented the Shekinah or innate glory of God. One does not even need to find theological reasons why this atheistic assertion is incorrect since the sun is not the only source of light. As sunlight (a point source) does not mix with darkness, it would not need to be separated from darkness (Genesis 1:4), thus the first light cannot be sunlight and there is no contradiction.

Problem #7: Assume that the religious reason was purely religious.

The press release includes the following:

Leading ethicist, Dr Mark Sheehan, argues that these ethical dilemmas are not confined to fervent religious belief, and to polarise the issue as medicine versus religion is unproductive, and something of a “red herring.”

Michael Cook on the BioEdge website further quotes Sheehan:

“Given the cultural and political histories of Islam and Africa in the last 100 years, how is it surprising that the parents who would not come around did not trust the combination of Western medicine, Western religious representatives and the secular view of doctors?”

In other words,there could be more reasons that the parents masked under the rubric of religion for their refusal to allow their children to die.

PART II

Charles Foster (University of Oxford) says it best,

“The legal and ethical orthodoxy is that no beliefs, religious or secular, should be allowed to stonewall the best interests of the child.”

Unfortunately, the article itself is problematic. While not open accessible, quotes from the article show frightening logic.

From Wesley Smith for the Human Future,

In many cases, the children about whom the decisions are being made are too young to subscribe to the religious beliefs held by their parents, yet we continue to respect the parents beliefs.

So just whose beliefs should have precedence? A child or the child’s parent?

Children are currently seen as having a religion by virtue of their parents but it could be argued that children have no religious faith until such time as they are deemed mature enough to make decisions around consent.

By this logic, why do we not allow a child to do whatever they want until they are mature enough to decide for themselves?

As Dawkins suggests, should we refer to the child of Christian parents rather than a “Christian child?” We suggest it is time to have a default position in that it is presumed that parental religion is not a determining factor in decision-making for the child until the child is “Glick competent” to choose to consent to be part of the parent’s religion; thereby recognizing that religion is important to the parents but should not influence the management of their child.

When medical doctors use an argument for socio-medical policy change based on the arguments of a zoologist’s take on religion, something is very wrong. This alone raises flags over the nature of the paper’s peer-review standard.

One further argument for such an approach and one we do not shy away from is the resources used in maintaining children in this setting. While we feel the best interests of the child in question are paramount, the interests of society, including the other children who might have used this valuable resource, cannot be ignored, especially when non-medically indicated painful and futile therapies are continued on children due to the expectation of miraculous intervention.

This is perhaps their strongest argument and deserves treatment. Medical doctors are multitasked with prolonging life, making life comfortable and equitable resource allocation (among other things), and one can see that a doctor would rightfully want to maximize limited hospital resources for all patients. Thus, ‘waiting for miracle parents’ are costing large amounts of money to keep their children on life support or in engaging other therapies. However, using the legal apparatus as the primary choice for dealing with such cases is uncalled for. For instance, assuming that Sheehan’s arguments do not hold, they should:

  • Investigate the nature of the parental objections to different terminal illnesses;
  • With these findings, soliciting assistance from different fundamentalist organizations by asking the clergy to discuss the issue and present position papers on each type of terminal illness (this will aiding in religious rapport);
  • If the position papers are favourable, use these when encountering these rare circumstances; but
  • Prepare nevertheless by seeking legislation that would force the parents to pay for every non-recommended procedure they desire (since resource allocation is the issue).

DYNAMICS:

  1. Don’t make mountains out of mole-hills
  2. Peddle your agendas carefully using logic and pragmatism
  3. There are ex-fundamentalists who are even less theologically literate than theologically illiterate fundamentalists
  4. Even medical doctors peddle anti-religious Dawkinian agendas under the rubric of medical equity

Other atheist peddlers: The so-called friendly atheist Hemant Mehta.

SOURCES:

Brierly, Joe., Linthicum, Jim., and Andy Petros. 2012. Should religious beliefs be allowed to stonewall a secular approach to withdrawing and withholding treatment in children? Journal of Medical Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100104.

Scaramanga, Jonny. 2012. The promise of miracles tortures dying children. Leaving Fundamentalism Blog. http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/the-promise-of-miracles-tortures-dying-children [accessed: 2012-08-20].

Smith, Wesley. 2012. Anti-Christian “Secularist” Futile Care Attack Parental Medical Decision Making Rights. The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network (CBC Network). http://thehumanfuture.cbc-network.org/2012/08/anti-christian-secularist-futile-care-attack-parental-medical-decision-making-rights/ [accessed: 2012-08-20].

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