There’s a proposal here in Idaho to remove what’s considered a “religious exemption” in existing parental negligence law. The back story is here. First of all, easily preventable death is tragic, and I wish these parents did seek remedial health care in situations where their children were sick. While there are many dynamics to this proposal in dealing with parental rights and religious freedom, my interest lies more in the dynamic of ever-advancing technology in health care and whether the State has any authority to forever bind her citizens to all medical advancements in the future that would prevent death and/or prolong life. My previous reference to “remedial” care is considered miraculous according to yesteryear’s standards. And what will “remedial” look like in 30 years?
More and more ailments are seen as less threatening because of the advance in medical technology that has gifted us with treatments that didn’t formerly exist. Think penicillin and certain vaccinations we didn’t have for most of human history. Lives have been saved, and to God be the glory! Now the tricky part is in establishing the level of culpability among people relative to the advancement of medicine. When children died because of ailments that had no curable treatment, there’s no thought of culpability or negligence, because there was no alternative. What if we create a cancer pill in 50 years that automatically sends all cancer into immediate remission; can the State then deem its consumption as necessary for all children or else prosecute the parents for negligence? After all, it would be considered as “remedial.”
What if there’s a tribe of Native Americans that has opted out of civilization as we know it? They want to be left alone, give birth to babies like humans have for thousands of years, and raise their children according to their own medicinal practices, some of which we might objectively know have no curing effects, etc. Their infant mortality rates might be higher, as well as occurrences of childhood death, and perhaps a shorter average lifespan to boot. (This is all for the sake of argument.) Now, folks might be so kind as to establish a relationship with these folks and offer medicine that would be helpful (like some missionaries have), but would we be in the right to prosecute their parents for refusal to administer our medicine? I think not. If you think they should be rounded up and charged with criminal neglect, then you’re mandating their allegiance to medicine. They weren’t negligent before the medicine existed, weren’t negligent before you brought it to their attention, but are now guilty because they simply opted out of the advancement of technology? To be clear, I do believe in a natural right to breathe air, drink water, and eat food. Forcible restriction to these things, when available, would be murder. We take medical intervention for granted to the point of thinking its administration is just like breathing and eating, but it’s not. It’s an intervention to counteract declining health. I really wish that these folks would view certain medicine like the consumption of food, because it’s often formulaic combinations that help counteract sickness and disease. I wonder if these folks eat more oranges when they have colds. Would it be a sin to scientifically understand how retain foods benefit their health? I don’t know. Point being that consistency according to their convictions would require the cessation of food and water or an acknowledgement that medicine acts similarly to food they already are consuming to stay alive. But I digress. Back to the nanny-state.
What does this nanny-state look like in her current iteration? Downright imperialistic, via the rouge of “health and welfare.” Howard Dean recently had the gall to say that the State needs to set mandates for acceptable health care as a matter of human rights and as a way to protect employees from “negligent” employers. Allow me to interpret: an employer who refuses to include abortifacients in health care is negligent. Did you get that? The State is arguing that refusal to allow resources for forcible death is a lack of consideration for the health of the employee.
I consider it an odd thing that the same Idaho Legislature that complied with Obama in the administration of a State Health Exchange, which comes jam-packed with the goodies of the HHS mandate, would consider stepping in to mandate that the hypothetical (or not so hypothetical) Native American opt in with medical advancement – or else. Actually, it would be consistent with a statist impulse that doesn’t know when to hit the brakes. There was a lot of hand-wringing and cowardly declarations from some that they had to do something, because Obama would anyways. There’s a big difference between being complicit and saying no way. The accomplice in a robbery doesn’t get off by saying it would have happened anyway, and that they went along with it to limit the plunder, and then have the gall to claim the virtues of what wasn’t stolen. I hope for enough inconsistency among those who said yes to Obama to say no to this.
As a Christian, grateful for medicine, I would try my best to persuade my neighbors to receive it as a gift from God and for their good, but their refusal would not deputize me with the sword to inflict punishment for refusal to do so. To make compulsory the consumption of all medicine or procedures that would prolong life also smacks of corporatism and government sanction of certain medicines that will fill the pockets of its producer. God forbid that the State would ever make such commerce compulsory in the name of our well-being. Oh wait, they already are. Never mind.
I do, however, believe that the State has a compelling interest in the lives of all her citizens, children included. But “health and welfare” is based on what the nanny determines and will inevitably lead to an imperialism of the medical industry in the name of saving lives, to be administered under compulsion – or else. None of these parents deliberately killed their children. Starving your child to death, or beating them to death, are crimes that should be punished by the State. There is a limit to parental authority, religious freedom, and even property rights; but simply removing this exemption does not fix the problem or establish clearer boundaries. The state forbids child sacrifice, even if I claimed Baal worship as my religion of choice and appealed to the 1st Amendment. I can’t force my kids into prostitution under the claim of parental authority, and the practice of a religion that requires teenage prostitutes for sacramental orgies. Let us be clear that there are existing laws on the books that will be enforced no matter what religious shield one seeks to use to excuse criminal activity. This brings up a whole other discussion about epistemology and the authority of our laws over and against certain other metaphysical claims of religion, but that’s for another day.
The death of these children is tragic. But rounding these parents up and creating a bunch of orphans in the process would be a greater tragedy. It also sends a message that the way humans have lived for thousands of years would be deemed negligent today, worthy of criminal prosecution, all because our medicine has advanced. Now, I think that this progress is a good thing to be celebrated and enjoyed, but prosecuting people for not opting in to modern medicine will set a dangerous precedent that will forever bind parents to swallow all the medicine from this point onward that is deemed an effective remedy for every imaginable symptom. The advancement of medicine will increase parental culpability to the point where daily visits are required in the name of “health and welfare.” This might seem like reductio ad absurdum, but it is what the rationale will require for consistency moving forward. A legislator might scoff at my warning, but how did we get where we are today? God save the Republic.
P.S. Fellow Idahoan pastor, Douglas Wilson, has chimed in on this issue with some similar concerns here.
© 2014, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.