Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Child's Medical Care

Balko writes:

Here’s a tough one for you: Do parental rights extend to denying potentially lifesaving chemo for your kid? What probability of success does the treatment have to carry for a parent to be allowed to decline it on behalf of his kid? I don’t have an answer. I don’t think Christian Science parents should be permitted to let their kid die of an ear infection. But if chemo is going to make your kid’s last 3 years unlivable, and only has a 25 percent chance of success, I think parents should be able to say no. I just don’t know where or how you draw the line.

I've been kicking this one around in my head since I read about it. What galls me the most here is that this involves government functionaries making decisions, when they lack the incentives to appreciate the values of those involved. I would be far more comfortable with a grandparent, uncle, or sibling who took a child away from a parents who were neglecting to get their child medical treatment, in order to have the child treated. I don't buy the rule of thumb that an outside party is a better judge, when those closest to the conflict have the most to lose or gain and thus have intimate reasons to make their choices.

As an atheist, I don't care for making irrational choices based upon faith. Nor do I care for inculcating children with anti-reason. But I completely part ways with Richard Dawkins, for example, when he argues that outsiders should take away children from religious parents, on the grounds that brainwashing them with fundamentalist religion is abuse. The outsiders to which he would defer are likely to be completely irrational when it comes to politics, economics, and diet--to name some obvious examples. They would be government functionaries, who are not motivated to do their best, who often have incentives which run contrary to the interests of the children. If our culture hadn't been corrupted with dependence on government to solve social problems, to the point of near helplessness, perhaps private individuals close to the scene would be more inclined to do the right thing.

Obviously, if a parent is burning a child with a cigarette, sexually molesting the child, or doing other similarly monstrous things, I think outsiders have a right to step in. I agree that choosing not to go through with chemo isn't child abuse--especially when the teenager at issue doesn't want it, since he or she is old enough that his or her opinion should hold some weight, even if it isn't the final word.

No comments: