Feb 17, 2010
The issue of faith and medical treatments is a complicated one. It is clearly wrong when parents refuse to provide medical treatment to their children because of their faith. However, it gets complicated with adults who refuse treatment. After all, it is their life and they have the ultimate say about their own treatment.
The Washington Post today has an article about a 36-year-old Peruvian immigrant mother, Maribel Perez, who has struggled balancing her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness and the blood transfusion she needs for her lung transplant.
There are several interesting bits in here:
a) Maribel’s view that she may be trading a few more years here on Earth for an eternal condemnation. Whether one should believe in this equation is a separate question, but if one does, like Maribel, then you can appreciate her struggle in making this decision. She also believes that God would punish her in this life for going through with the blood transfusion
b) Her husband, her mother, and many of her friends clearly want her to go through with the lung transplant. But to make their case, they also use a religious argument—that God would want her to live longer for her kids
c) The members of her Jehovah’s Witness congregation, who want her to refuse transfusion. In many ways, this is the group that is least affected by her death—and only gains from her steadfast refusal of transfusion
d) On top of all this, there is also the issue of the expenses of post-transplant care, and here, a tightly knit religious community would have been of help, but unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses take the opposite route.
Good, bad—these are complicated issues. I have the point of view that faith should not play a role in medical decisions, but I appreciate the complexity offered in the article. In her ultimate decision:
Perez feared less for her eternal life than that God would punish her by taking her life if she went ahead with the transplant. “I was worried God wouldn’t let me live after the operation,” she said. Three days later, Perez told Lorenzo she’d changed her mind.
“I began to think how much I loved my children, these marvelous gifts from God,” she explained, gulping for air as tears rolled down her face. “God loves. He does not demand that we follow rules. The rules are ours.” Her heart told her that God wanted her to choose life.
Perez no longer talks to Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor they to her. It is hard, she said. They are like her family. But the religion “disfellowships,” or excommunicates, members who disobey its teachings. Contacted by a reporter and asked about Perez, a member of her congregation said, “She is not a Jehovah’s Witness,” and hung up.
Ouch. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not come out looking good from this story. But these issues are not limited to Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, I knew someone (a Muslim) who refused to have any medicine or treatment that had any derivatives from alcohol. I have also posted before about the Followers of Christ Church who refuse to have any medical care for themselves and for their kids, and about the case of the rise of polio in many areas where the polio vaccine is considered an “infidel vaccine.“