Faith healing for children, and state involvement

There was a story making headlines a few days ago about a ten-year-old girl who was taken into state custody because her parents refused a medical treatment that could possibly prevent her from going blind due to a hemangioma.

The state has had temporary custody of 10-month-old Alayna Wyland since July. The state initially placed her in foster care but last month allowed her to return to the Wyland home under a court order that requires close medical supervision and other conditions.

The ruling Tuesday by Clackamas County Circuit Judge Douglas V. Van Dyk will assure that the Wylands continue to comply with a treatment plan and gives the state the power to act on Alayna’s behalf.

Van Dyk said continued state involvement is needed because the Wylands’ failure to provide necessary medical treatment to Alayna “resulted in serious physical injury.”

The Wylands, who belong to the Followers of Christ in Oregon City, asked the judge to return custody to them, promising they would continue a care plan that may save sight in the girl’s left eye.

This is, understandably, making a lot of people nervous. And also hysterical, angry, upset, and terrified. There was a similar story making headlines last year about a boy in Minnesota:

The mother of 13-year-old Daniel Hauser testified Friday that she and her son would refuse to comply with any court order requiring the boy to resume chemotherapy for his cancer.

“Danny clearly made up his mind. He’s not doing it,” Colleen Hauser, of Sleepy Eye, Minn., testified on the opening day of a trial over whether a court should order the boy into medical treatment against the family’s wishes.

Hauser, whose son was diagnosed in January with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said conventional treatments such as chemotherapy conflict with the family’s religious beliefs. She said they prefer natural remedies such as herbs and vitamins.

Asked where she learned about the alternative healing techniques, Hauser said, “on the Internet.”

Colleen Hauser took off with Daniel, and, upon their return, was eventually ordered to allow (or make) her son go through with chemotherapy. In Daniel’s case, it was made clear that the alternative methods of healing his cancer was something he willingly chose to do, did not want chemotherapy, and had said that he would physically fight the doctors administering the treatments; on the other hand,

Rodenberg found Daniel has only a “rudimentary understanding at best of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. … he does not believe he is ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill currently.”

The Hausers, who have eight children, are Roman Catholic and also believe in the “do no harm” philosophy of the Nemenhah Band. The Missouri-based religious group believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.

Rodenberg wrote that Daniel claims to be an elder in the band, but does not know what that means. Daniel also says he is a medicine man under Nemenhah teachings but can’t say how he became a medicine man or what teachings he has had to become one.

He also noted that at age 13, Daniel can’t read.

…it doesn’t sound like Daniel was really able to make an informed decision about the costs and benefits of chemotherapy, or even aware of exactly how ill he was.

There is a huge difference between a making the decision to refuse conventional therapy for oneself, and with the consideration of one’s family, and these children: the children are the ones affected by these decisions, and their parents are essentially making those decisions for them. The commentary that is resulting from these stories shows a clear disregard for the bodily autonomy of these children. From an article about the ten-year-old girl on Glenn Beck’s new “news” site, The Blaze, a commenter who calls herself MOTHER OF 4 FUTURE PRESIDENTS writes:

Who gave birth to the child?, The mother or the government. Furthermore, who put the baby in the mother? God. Last I checked He is still on the thone and is more than capable of healing that child. I am not anti Dr.s but I believe God is still Healing. I once read in the Bible that there was a King with leprocy and he went to the physicians to be healed and not God. God was upset that he did not go to him for healing. God allowed him to die from the leprocy, but if he had gone to God he would have healed him. Wake up! It is not the govenments job to tell us how to parent.


Well, here we go again, with the government of oregon assuming they know what is in the best interests of the children in place of the parents. The attorny, Mr Neidig seems to be right in that if they had been Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim they would be left alone but the state indeed is treating these folks as if they were true criminals.


It’s thier child not mine. I don’t want people telling me how to raise my children. Someday people will tell you that “everyone else agrees” you must (insert disagreabale idea here) for your child. Then we will see how you like the nany state. You can disagree with people but you can’t control people.

The common theme here being the idea that whether or not a child has life-saving or sight-saving treatments or surgery is up to the parents of that child, and not the children themselves. I have a real problem with how these stories and the commentary about these families centers on the right for the parents to parent as they see fit, regardless of the potentially fatal effects their “techniques” have on the child.

Of course, the parents have to be involved in the process and often speak for the child and make decisions on his or her behalf. It’s not as though a child does, or necessarily should, have the right to complete decision-making freedom; but there is a line to be drawn at the point where a third party’s consent is essentially the only thing keeping another person from being cured of a fatal illness. As is made clear in Daniel’s case, information was withheld from him, and he lacked the skills necessary to both understand the severity of his illness, and make an informed decision about treatment. Children are vulnerable members of society, and parents don’t always know what’s best for them. While government stepping in to take control of people and the decisions that their family makes is a frightening prospect in most case, in situations where a child’s life is in danger, I can’t side with the parents’ religious freedom. Religious freedom doesn’t give any person the right to withhold life-saving treatment from another person.

I also have a hard time understanding the logic in the comments on the Blaze article. There were Bible verses and Jesus talk galore in that comment thread, as well as talk of keeping the government out of the family’s life, so it’s pretty clear that the majority of the site’s readership is of the religious conservative set. You know, the kind who usually oppose a woman’s right to make the decision to abort a fetus. As I commented,

How many of you people who are opposed to the state stepping in are opposed to abortion? Do you really believe that a woman can absolutely not make the decision to abort an 8-week old fetus, but that she and the father of her child have every right to choose to withhold life-saving treatment from their sentient child? That’s preposterous.

I wouldn’t typically even bother commenting on such a site in the first place, as I tend to avoid engaging with people about topics on which I already know we disagree completely. It’s really rather pointless, more often than not, and not really worth the effort. Just like I’m not trying to wander over to an MRA blog and try to convince them of the virtues of feminism, or even think I have a chance at succeeding in such a thing. But I really just couldn’t not point out the glaring hypocrisy of some of these people’s viewpoints. It’s just absurd.

I realize that all Tea Partiers aren’t opposed to abortion rights, but it’s been shown that a large majority of Tea Partiers socially conservative, and that a majority do oppose abortion rights.

The logic fail, it astounds.

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5 Responses to Faith healing for children, and state involvement

  1. April says:

    I suppose one way that the logic of allowing the parents to withhold chemo from the boy, and the other families’ decisions, is based on the belief that they shouldn’t intervene, period. A person procuring an abortion is doing so deliberately, and with purpose, while the parents in question are simply passively allowing a death to occur. Similar to the Catholic belief that a woman’s entire fallopian tube be removed to end an ectopic pregnancy, rather than an abortion.

  2. Cessen says:

    The common theme here being the idea that whether or not a child has life-saving or sight-saving treatments or surgery is up to the parents of that child, and not the children themselves.

    Oh god, I hate it when people pull the “but s/he is my child!” BS.

    I wonder if I get to forcibly withhold necessary medical treatment from my friends too. After all, they’re my friends.

    It is amazing to me how many people seem to think that they effectively own their children. Because their children are theirs. It’s like they don’t understand that the word “my” often indicates relationship, not ownership.

    This comes up a lot with pro-circ people, too. Arg.

  3. Paul says:

    For the most part I agree… to a point. I mean thats why we have CPS right?

    But, to play devil’s advocate for a sec here, ask yourself what the reaction to this would be if the families in question had been say, Korean immigrants and practicioners of shamanism? (as an example, I’m not sure what the shamanistic view of modern medicine is… but for the sake of the argument let’s say it’s similar to these examples)

    Because I’ve noticed that “cultural relativism” only extends right to the edge of conservative Christianity, and no further.

  4. Pingback: State intervening in family decisions, pt. 2 | ethecofem

  5. Jim says:

    “Because I’ve noticed that “cultural relativism” only extends right to the edge of conservative Christianity, and no further.”

    Then you need to turn up your notice sensors. Snake handlers – not really conseervative Christians by any metric, get raided by the feds for including children in thier services. There’s a federla law specifically against FGM, much to the dismay of various African groups in the US. In fact FGM is a basis for political asylum.

    MGM may be next, and you can expect wailing and gnashing of teeth over that one. It won’t be “conservative Christians” wailing over that one – Catholics and Orthodox and Anglicans and Lutherans don’t really have a dog in that fight. It will be the Fundamentalists and Christian Zionists who get into an uproar.

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