Wednesday, May 20, 2009

lipless lovers

A mother runs away with her 13 year-old son after a court orders that he continue his chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Arrest warrant issued.

Mixed feelings on this one.

The state certainly has an interest in protecting children (and, methinks, obligation to do so) from negligent parents. However, does refusing chemotherapy and radiation constitute negligence? Dismissing the religious question for the moment (though the religious question must certainly be considered in the whole of the ethical/legal analysis), that seems a question on which reasonable people might easily much so that the judge's decision to issue an arrest warrant seems both unreasonable and extreme.

The real danger here is the sickening hegemony the mainstream medical establishment bears over society--to the extent now, apparently, that disobeying a physician's prescription is a crime.

Damn technocrats... A technician who's not a philosopher is about as useless as a lover without lips.


KingM said...

I'm only following the story in a general way, but my impression is that the survival rate for this particular cancer is 95% with treatment and close to 0% without. So by saying that this woman's religion allows to her to withhold treatment, she is more or less saying, "My religion allows me to kill my child."

What if her religion told her not to feed her child, or to deliberately let a cobra bite it, or to push the child off a 100' ledge (or whatever height would be necessary for a 5% survival rate)? Let God decide if the child lives or dies.

Wouldn't a judge be within his rights to arrest the mother before she could do any of these things?

The cancer in question and it's treatment are quite well known. This is not an experimental treatment they're forcing on this child. The treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma is mature and widely understood.

goat said...

Refusing treatment that didn't exist a few decades ago is hardly comparable to pushing someone off a cliff.

Additionally, letting someone die from illness is not at all the same as actively placing someone in harm's way.

But forget the religious component. The case to me is about forcing rather sophisticated technology on the apparently that is both (1) beyond the scope of the average person to fully understand and/or master themselves (it might as well be voodoo) and (2) controlled by an institution which does not allow access or experimentation without a very selective, lengthy, and expensive initiation process.

Anyway, medicine _is_ a kind of religion. Physicians are modern high priests. How is imposing _that_ religion any more just than some other religious coercion?

KingM said...

Anyway, medicine _is_ a kind of religion. Physicians are modern high priests. How is imposing _that_ religion any more just than some other religious coercion?No, not really. Prayer and ritual still overlap with medicine, but this is only where medicine is not yet understood. This is why people call 911 before offering a blessing.

This is why prayer can cure a severe viral infection, but nobody claims that prayer restored their amputated limb. The viral infection and its complex battle with the human body is variable and not fully understood. The missing limb is just...missing. If you want to regain functionality, you'll need to see a medical professional and be fitted for a prosthetic.

KanyonKris said...

Good comments all. A thorny issue and tricky balance indeed.

13 is the edge of adult - ideally he should decide, but at that age parental involvement makes sense, but how much weight?

I agree medicine has too much power. I respect their oath to do no harm, but if a person chooses harm why should they interfere?

On a related topic, I think suicide should be legal - how is it wrong to control your own life (or end thereof)? I can easily see situations where the individual would choose death over a life so diminished and devoid of meaning - especially with the extensive life saving/extending technologies available today.

Now back to the boy, he is the flip-side: with treatment he has good odds of living a normal life. But the law gives parents control over their children.

Reminds me of "Minority Report" where society stops murders before they happen, but until a deed is done how sure is the justification of the intervention?

I'm split on this subject. On one hand denying treatment is almost murder - as if the parent shot the child, and society doesn't allow that. On the other hand the family is empowered, for good or bad - parents generally care for their children, and if they don't should anyone intervene?

KingM said...

I think it's the age of the child that makes it an issue. If the mother decided not to have treatment, I might think it was foolish, but I would reluctantly say that she has the right to decide if she lives or she dies.

In this case, the child is 13, and has been taught that herbs and prayer are the way to treat cancer. I don't believe these things will cure him.

Anonymous said...

goates - gotta agree with you on the uneasy feelings. hodgkin's lymphoma is relatively "curable" 50 - 95% depending on the grade. but remember the statistics don't mean that this kid's chance of survival is 50-95%. It means that out of a hundred kids like him 50 to 95 of them will survive and 5 - 50 will die. Which group he would fall into is impossible to say. So a lot of kids get through it and do great. And without chemo the disease is fatal. But the cure is literally poisoning the body until the cancer is gone and then hoping things turn out ok. It is not pleasant quick or inexpensive. And when it goes wrong the child will likely die a prolonged painful death after prolonged painful treatments. sounds like fun right. as a pediatrics resident i see more of the bad outcomes than good ones because its the sick kids that end up in the hospital so i am a bit biased. i am trained to intervene, but the life at all costs approach which is the standard of care is very unsettling. it allows the care givers to reassure themselves that they did everything they could but ignores the reality that a significant minority of patients will be put through prolonged,painful, undignified deaths because of the attempted interventions.

goat said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike.

Greg said...

I've also been conflicted on this one. Being one who is trained to give the chemo, I clearly believe that it's the best way to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma. But I also believe strongly in one's right to choose. The sticky part is that he is 13, and this is a curable disease. One news report said that he is a very immature 13, that he can't read.