When the religious beliefs of parents conflict with the medical
needs of the child, medical care trumps religion.
In Pennsylvania, and most other states, the law allows health and
government officials to get court approval to provide medical care
to save a child's life over the parents' religious objections.
But in Akron, Ohio, where Amish parents removed their 10-year-
old daughter from the hospital to avoid further chemotherapy, the
issue enters a legal gray area.
"I think this is a more heartrending question," said Wes Oliver,
associate professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice
Program at the Duquesne Law School. "Do you require parents to take
extraordinary measures to give a child a percentage chance of
survival, or do you leave that decision for the parents?"
In the Amish case, the parents took their daughter to the
hospital in May for chemotherapy before removing her from treatment
The girl is diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive
form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma that medical officials say is curable.
The Leukemia Research Foundation says there's a first-year survival
rate of 81 percent for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, with a five-year
survival rate of 67 percent and 10-year survival rate of 56 percent.
"What's interesting in this case is, the one reason people don't
go through chemotherapy involves the cost-benefit analysis. If the
rationale is that the child undergo chemotherapy with no significant
chance of a cure, then this is not a religious objection. If it were
a religious objection, the parents would never have sought treatment
for the child in the first place," he said.
Withholding medical care for religious reasons has caused the
death of more than 60 children nationwide since the 1970s, the
Massachusetts Citizens for Children reports, including one 1981
Pittsburgh case, two 1991 cases in Altoona and 13 cases in the
In April, a second child of Philadelphia parents who believe in
faith healing died from pneumonia after they refused to seek medical
help. They now face murder charges.
The Massachusetts website lists no cases involving the Amish. The
issue more commonly involves members of Jehovah's Witnesses,
Christian Science, the Faith Tabernacle, the Church of the First
Born, the Faith Assembly and the End Time Ministries.
When medical or government officials become aware of seriously
ill children whose parents are withholding medical care, the law
allows them to intercede to prevent the child's death. Parents are
entitled to their religious beliefs until they endanger their
"Religion always loses that battle," Mr. Oliver said. "It is easy
for us as a society to draw the line because most people don't share
those religious views of being torn between religious views and
Parents typically face involuntary manslaughter charges when the
lack of medical care leads to a child's death.
But the Akron case is murkier. The Amish parents argued that
chemotherapy was hurting, not helping their daughter, who was
suffering great discomfort from the treatment. …