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RightNation.US: Judge May Override Parental/Religious Rights - RightNation.US

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A family in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota stands to have their parental and religious rights overturned by a judge. A county attorney attests that Colleen and Anthony Hauser are guilty of child neglect and endangerment because they have opted not to proceed with chemotherapy as a treatment for their son Daniel, who has Hodgkin's lymphoma. That particular brand of cancer is apparently very treatable by chemo in patients Daniel's age; the boy is 13 years old. It is said that, if he gets the treatment, there is a 95% chance he will live. On the other hand, if he does not get it, there is a 95% chance he will die. Daniel and his parents are part of a Native American religious sect called Nemenhah, a faith which is guiding their actions. The Hausers have evoked their protected right to practice their religion without state interference. The state argues it has a "compelling interest in protecting this young man" from what it deems the irresponsible convictions of his parents.

It is a familiar scenario, one that hits close to home for me. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. Though I left the religion upon adulthood, I still vividly recall the organization's teachings on blood transfusion. As far back as I can remember, once a year, a "brother" would get up on the podium at the head of the congregation and preach for twenty minutes on the physical and spiritual repercussions of blood transfusion. He would inevitably cite Genesis 9:4, "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it," and equate transfusion to consumption. When he was done, attendants would hand out cards to all in attendance which we would sign and place in our wallets or purses; these were medical directives stating that we conscientiously objected to blood transfusion. In my 17 years with the organization, transfusion was never a practical issue, thankfully. However, I can tell you without doubt that, at the age of 13, had I been in a medical emergency that required blood transfusion, I would have made my best effort to reject the treatment. I would have done so due to a conscientious, if underage, belief that blood transfusion was detested by God. Today, on the other hand, I would have no objection to blood transfusion. As an adult who has had many years to develop his own religious and personal conviction, I am now quite confident God has no objection to blood transfusions, birthdays, or the Pledge of Allegiance, among many other things. Jehovah's Witnesses are a strange bunch. I live today somewhat resentful of my parents' religious choice, knowing it could have easily resulted in my untimely death. That said, they had the right to make that decision, whether I agree with it now or not, and certainly in spite of the state.

The Hauser story is considered controversial, and is getting a fair amount of airtime here in Minnesota. Controversial it is, but in no way legally ambiguous. The Hausers have the right to make their own medical decisions regarding themselves and their minor children, particularly when those decisions are informed by their religious beliefs. There should be no debate on the subject, no question in the judge's mind. The controversy is hypothetical, not legal. There is nothing wrong with shaking your head at the Hausers and saying, "Wow, that's stupid. They should know better. If it was my kid, he'd be getting chemo." There is something wrong with taking the next step and trying to impose that judgment on them and force treatment. Religious thought, belief, and practice are matters of personal judgment - personal, not communal - individual, not societal. As a result, there will be times when those judgments run contrary to conventional wisdom. The question then becomes whether an individual has the right to religious self-determination. That is a question the United States Constitution answers clearly. That is why I fail to see the so-called "compelling interest" the state here claims to have in protecting Daniel from his parents.

The interventionist advocate would here counter with hypothetical cases much like my own. What if you had been hit by a car, Walter, and your parents refused a transfusion and you died? Sure, you agreed with them then. But you were only 13 and they had you brainwashed. I'm not saying it wouldn't suck. I'm not saying I like the scenario. But the buck has to stop somewhere and there are only three options - me (the minor child), my parents, or the state. There is no argument whether a child should be able to make that kind of decision on their own. The remaining question is whether it should fall to the parents or the state. What if the parents are wrong?

It's an inappropriate question. The parents can't be wrong about a religious medical choice. It is a subjective matter, a personal matter, a matter between them and their god. The state can only protect them from intervention or overrule their decision. And if the state overrules them in this case, by what criteria will future cases be judged? What will constitute "neglect?" Who will author the standard? Which religious worldview will underlay that standard? Those aren't questions we want answers to. Aside from the religious rights in question, there is also the matter of basic parental rights. A commenter on the Star Tribune's website exclaims "Daniel is brainwashed!!!" Maybe he is. It's irrelevant. He's 13 years old, and therefore legally incompetent regardless of any other consideration. Until he is 18, his parents are his legal custodians, which means they make his decisions for him. End of story.

It is ridiculous that these basic rights are coming into question. It's not the government's job to fix the Hausers' situation. There is a simple standard which underlies the Bill of Rights. Government will always err, because it is a human institution and human beings are imperfect and prone to error. Because government will err, it MUST err on the side of liberty, or tyranny will inevitably result. Let's hope it doesn't result here.
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15 Comments On This Entry

Since when does the State care so much about preserving life? THAT'S what's got me peeved. People refuse treatment and check into Hospice centers all the time. It's sad, tragic, and it makes me weep for some, but since when... when did the State start to care about life. If they cared, partial-birth infanticide would never have been an option. If they cared, ...

...oh, never mind. I know I'm preaching to the choir.

God, please continue to bless Walter.
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Walter, what a brilliant commentary! You are absolutely correct, the buck must stop somewhere. Someone must have ultimate responsibility and God's plan is for that responsibility to fall on the parent.
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I disagree. In our society, Parental rights are not and never have been "absolute". There are some things that Parents just aren't allowed to do and Murder, or even manslaughter, are one of those things.

Likewise, "Religious freedom" is not an absolute defense either. But even *IF* religious freedom were absolute, there's nothing in the bible that allows a parent to kill a child. Biblically, children can be killed, yes, especially in the case of incorrigible children, but not by the parents themselves, only by "city elders" (Deut 21:18-21). I can't find anywhere in the bible where any person, not even a parent, has the individual right to cause the death of another person.

HAVING SAID THAT, THOUGH, In this case the State of Minnesota has painted themselves in a corner. Minnesota statute 609.378 specifically allows "spiritual means or prayer" to be considered as "medical care" for the purpose of avoiding a child neglect charge and hence a manslaughter charge.

I disagree, vehemently, that there should be such an exemption in the law, for all the reasons I stated above. But since the exemption IS there, i just don't see how the state can proceed.
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Not allowing medical intervention that violates a family's religious beliefs IS NOT murder by any stretch of the imagination. Neither is it manslaughter or "allowing a parent to kill a child". I have the right to decide that my eternal well being matters more to me than my earthly well being. Furthermore, Walter is right. Someone must have ultimate responsibility for minor children. God's design is that ultimate responsiblity lies with the parent, NOT the state.
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Adam:

Thanks for the reply.

As Floridamom points out, your argument operates on the premise that rejecting life-saving treatment for one's child is murder. I reject that premise. Do you really believe there is no moral difference between the Hausers rejecting chemo for Daniel on religious grounds and taking direct action to maliciously end his life? They didn't give him cancer. Do you think they want him to die? Do you imagine it is easy for them to stand by these convictions? No matter how ridiculous they seem to you and me, the Hausers are not you or me; and they don't have to be!

You are correct in one principle. Freedoms have limits, specifically the boundary where continued exercise would infringe upon the freedom of others. Whose freedom is being infringed upon by the Hausers making up their own mind regarding their family's medical options? Conversely, can you deny that the state imposing treatment upon Daniel Hauser would be an infringement of his family's liberty? It's a simple equation if you operate from the principle of erring on the side of liberty.
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You are of course right. Every parent has the right to kill their kid through neglect under the auspices of Freedom of Religion. Don't get me wrong, I fully support your claim that it is their right, but let's be as honest about this as we are about abortion. This is no more and no less than murder.

I don't know about your faith, but my says that to see an evil occurring and to do nothing about it, is to be guilty of that evil. Silence is consent. I may be wrong for me to try and impose my religious point of view on the family and force them to get their child help. However, it is a much greater evil to be silent and let the child die.

This is a point where the family should literally be ostracized by the community. "You let your kid die when you had it in your power to save him because of your religious beliefs. I don't want that kind of evil around my community. It might rub off. Find somewhere else to spend your money, you are not welcome here.

Danny
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I'll tell you about my faith. The personality upon which it is focused did not spend his time on Earth "doing something" about the specific sins committed around him, save one. He did not stop murderers from murdering, or adulators from fornicating. The only sin Jesus Christ specifically and violently reacted against was the taking of his Father's name in vein by the religious do-gooders of his day, the men who sat and examined their fellow man and said, "We do not approve. You are violating God's law as we see it. Stand now and be judged by us." Jesus was the ultimate libertarian, a recognizer of every man's equality in sin and inadequacy to stand in judgment of others. My faith dictates that I live and let live in matters that are not my concern. I am to make Christ my head and be head to my household, not my neighbors.

The abortion comparison was inevitable, but ill-conceived. Again, the premise is that there is moral equivalence between making a medical decision regarding treatment for a disease contracted by an act of God and the malicious killing of an unborn child for personal convenience. Ridiculous.
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Walter Scott Hudson, on May 14 2009, 10:35 PM, said:

I'll tell you about my faith. The personality upon which it is focused did not spend his time on Earth "doing something" about the specific sins committed around him, save one. He did not stop murderers from murdering, or adulators from fornicating. The only sin Jesus Christ specifically and violently reacted against was the taking of his Father's name in vein by the religious do-gooders of his day, the men who sat and examined their fellow man and said, "We do not approve. You are violating God's law as we see it. Stand now and be judged by us." Jesus was the ultimate libertarian, a recognizer of every man's equality in sin and inadequacy to stand in judgment of others. My faith dictates that I live and let live in matters that are not my concern. I am to make Christ my head and be head to my household, not my neighbors.

The abortion comparison was inevitable, but ill-conceived. Again, the premise is that there is moral equivalence between making a medical decision regarding treatment for a disease contracted by an act of God and the malicious killing of an unborn child for personal convenience. Ridiculous.



The results are the same however- through action or inaction the life of a child is lost. I don't know which is worse, someone who justifies killing a child because they believe it is not human yet, or a parent who has the power to save their child and refuses to saying that "it's God's will". You are splitting hairs. You are saying that taking this child's life is wrong in this case, but it's okay in the other. I'm saying that it's wrong in both cases. The parents are making an informed choice to kill their kid.

Both are despicable acts, and should carry with them consequences. Unfortunately, they don't. At least society in general should shun both parents- actually, in my opinion they should run them out of town on a rail. But then again, I'm one of those nasty heathens who believes in taking responsibility for your actions. As far as I'm concerned, the parents are committing not only act of murder, but an act of stupidity, because they are destroying their lineage.

Again, I don't support the idea of the government stepping in and stopping them. I DO however support the idea of people simply saying, "We want nothing to do with people who are willing to murder their own children. You're evil and on top of that, you're stupid too."
By the way, you just described one the main reasons I'm not a Christian.
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cobalt-blue, on May 14 2009, 11:35 PM, said:

Walter Scott Hudson, on May 14 2009, 10:35 PM, said:

I'll tell you about my faith. The personality upon which it is focused did not spend his time on Earth "doing something" about the specific sins committed around him, save one. He did not stop murderers from murdering, or adulators from fornicating. The only sin Jesus Christ specifically and violently reacted against was the taking of his Father's name in vein by the religious do-gooders of his day, the men who sat and examined their fellow man and said, "We do not approve. You are violating God's law as we see it. Stand now and be judged by us." Jesus was the ultimate libertarian, a recognizer of every man's equality in sin and inadequacy to stand in judgment of others. My faith dictates that I live and let live in matters that are not my concern. I am to make Christ my head and be head to my household, not my neighbors.

The abortion comparison was inevitable, but ill-conceived. Again, the premise is that there is moral equivalence between making a medical decision regarding treatment for a disease contracted by an act of God and the malicious killing of an unborn child for personal convenience. Ridiculous.

The results are the same however- through action or inaction the life of a child is lost. I don't know which is worse, someone who justifies killing a child because they believe it is not human yet, or a parent who has the power to save their child and refuses to saying that "it's God's will". You are splitting hairs. You are saying that taking this child's life is wrong in this case, but it's okay in the other. I'm saying that it's wrong in both cases. The parents are making an informed choice to kill their kid.

Both are despicable acts, and should carry with them consequences. Unfortunately, they don't. At least society in general should shun both parents- actually, in my opinion they should run them out of town on a rail. But then again, I'm one of those nasty heathens who believes in taking responsibility for your actions. As far as I'm concerned, the parents are committing not only act of murder, but an act of stupidity, because they are destroying their lineage.

Again, I don't support the idea of the government stepping in and stopping them. I DO however support the idea of people simply saying, "We want nothing to do with people who are willing to murder their own children. You're evil and on top of that, you're stupid too."
By the way, you just described one the main reasons I'm not a Christian.



Actually, let me go back and change that argument if you don't mind. Upon further reflection and Mrs. C-B pointing out my own rules about how laws should function, I have to say I disagree totally. No law should exist that does not preserve life, liberty, or property- in that order of priorities. This is a case where the law is preserving a life- the life of a child who is incapable of giving consent to be treated.

The government SHOULD step in and force the treatment. Freedom of religion is fine until someone dies from it. If you want to take an action where you would die- that's fine, but you don't force it on a minor.
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The results are the same? So, if I go out and kill someone for some personal gain - say because I want their shoes, that is morally equivalent to killing them to protect what's mine - say because they are invading my home? In both cases, the results are the same. You're saying the circumstances don't matter, the process that generates the result has no moral bearing. Really?

We should hold people accountable for both action and inaction? So, who gets to decide in each case of death from here to eternity what potential actions could have prevented death and who is responsible for failing to prevent it? You? Me? Is there someone smarter than either of us you would like to nominate for the job? Perhaps you agree with attorney Scott Rynecki, who argues his clients - the families of two drunk teenage boys who were killed in a hit and run with a stolen car while stumbling home drunk from a party- are entitled to damages from the car owner and the host of the party because "It's an act of negligence for a person to leave their car with the motor running and easily accessible to anyone who wants to steal it. And if a party is going on in your house, you have an obligation to be responsible and make sure there is no underage drinking?" Perhaps you agree with the city of Minnetonka here in Minnesota, which is working on an ordinance to hold homeowners responsible for creating the conditions which COULD lead to underage drinking? Where does it stop?

Your original instinct on this issue served you better than the revision, in my belief. Your order of priorities seems arbitrary to me. If liberty comes before property, then my freedom doesn't stop at your doorstep. The true priority isn't life in general, then liberty in general, then property in general. The true priority is each individual's right to their life, liberty, and property. The philosophy behind the Bill of Rights is the protection of the individual. An individual's medical decision is no one else's business, period. Your desire to run someone out of town with communal indignation is yours to feel. But I'd give it more thought before trying to codifying into law. Unfortunately, the Minnesota judge in this case today sided against liberty. Hooray for life under the thumb of the state! What ever happened to "give me liberty or give me death?"
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Inaction is neglect when you're talking about parents and medical care for a child. If it was the choice between a slow painful death and a quick one where there's a reasonable moral quantify, than the state should respect the will of the parents. However I believe the state has enough imperative in protecting the life of a minor to intervene. A parent's right over a child is not absolute, the law has always held authority over parents and been able to take children away if they were abusive or neglectful. The life of a child in an easily decided medical decision over-rides religious freedom.
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Citing unconstitutional law is not a trump card. Such law should not exist. That's my point. It is indicative of one of the primary flaws our American society has developed since the founding; we've come to pursue outcome-based government, rather than principle-based government. The question should never be what can government do that will result in the best outcome. Because, if it is, you will always be able to come up with some justification for growing government, to further entwine its roots throughout our lives. Its continued growth, even if it has some positive outcomes in this case or that, will ultimately have a very negative one - tyranny.

I would rather live in a world where some kids with cancer don't get chemo and others don't get blood transfusions than one where the government intrudes into my private affairs and tells me how to parent. Upholding the principle of religious freedom is, in fact, more important than achieving the outcome of death prevention. The cult rape hypothetical is a different matter altogether, because you are talking about the infliction of harm. Again, these parents did not give their child cancer. We can all agree that proper care is clothing and feeding. Beyond that, it is a subjective matter. Obviously, if you do not adhere to my religion, you will not see the "proper" application of its tenets. It will never be "proper" to you. The principle behind the First Amendment is that it doesn't matter how you judge my religion, or how I judge yours; it is our right to live out our faith as we wish. If our government was principle-based, as it was intended to be, there would be no statutes regarding "necessary" medical treatment. But nowadays we're more interested in outcomes that make us feel warm and fuzzy, so we can sit back in our armchairs feeling good we saved someone else's kid from his moron parents. Never mind the principle we violate to do it, and how the precedent will come back to bite us someday.
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The life of a child in an easily decided medical decision over-rides religious freedom.
I was looking through these comments again and this statement caught my eye. Easily decided medical decision. Easily decided by who? It's easy for you, because you presumably have no religious or moral conviction to counter it. That does not make it easy for everyone else. Can you concede some degree of arrogance there, if unintended? It's easy for you, so it should be easy for them and everyone else? Wow.
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The direct answer to your question is; I do not think it is unconstitutional to criminalize neglect. We simply disagree on what neglect is.

I haven't ignored the meat of any thesis, and surely do not think you advocate tyranny. I am simply pointing out where the chain of precedent leads to if we ignore the Prime Precedent - which is the US Constitution. This is the problem with case law, one I believe needs serious scrutiny and radical reform. Instead of starting at the basis of all law, the US Constitution, we look to precedent and say, "Well, if Judge Whatshisface said in case such-and-such that X is okay, then (X+1) or (X-1) must be okay too," rather than looking at what the associated principle in the Constitution says. So if case law is made by an activist judge who interprets the law in a blatantly unconstitutional manner, the constitutional principle the case law violates has now and forevermore been eroded or destroyed. I am less concerned with legal precedent than the plain meaning of the Constitution. If we don't proceed from that philosophical starting point, than we might as well start calling judges Lords.

Your interpretation and application of my comment demonstrates my failure to accurately convey the point regarding neglect. So please allow me to try again. My position could never be used to justify starving a child to death, because starving is an infliction of harm. There is no reasonable argument against feeding as proper care. Nor would my position justify sacrificing a child to Satan, if that was your religious persuasion, because there is an obvious infliction of harm taking place there. The pool hypothetical is a moot point, since the prosecution of the parent in that case has no potential to conflict with their parental or religious rights. All your examples involve an infliction of harm. Medical decisions are a different animal altogether, because the matter being deliberated is not whether or how to harm the patient, but how to treat harm which has already occurred. If we start getting the state involved in that decision, the extension of that precedent to its most ridiculous conclusion is state doctors diagnosing you or me with some psychological disorder and ordering us committed to an institution and perpetually sedated. And listen, if the prevention of bad outcomes is what you're most concerned about, I guarantee my ridiculous scenario is more harmful to more people than yours.

But we need not toss worst cases back and forth. Again, the point isn't about the outcome, it's about the principle. My position can be consistently applied to a variety of situations and give you a workable solution with a minimum of deliberation which retains the greatest amount of protection for all parties concerned. I do not believe the same can be said about a medical interventionist policy. I believe Daniel Hauser was harmed by this judge's intervention in a way less dramatic than his cancer, but no less malignant. And the really sad thing is, it's not just him - it's all of us. And again, if outcomes are your focus, look at that. If the state doesn't intervene, one kid maybe dies. If they do, the whole citizenry loses something they can't get back.
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