Life as an Extreme Sport

religious exemptions v public health

My initial response to this article is something along the lines of “no matter how crazy a religion seems to you, there’s always one crazier…” but in truth, that’s not terribly helpful (and I know it – I’m just sans coffee so far this morning, and that’s never a good thing). In thinking further on it, my objection to the entire concept of religious exemptions for newborn blood screens comes from the fact that many of the costs that are incurred from having one of the treatable diseases that are screened forAnd I do want to stress that the newborn screening really should be only for treatable diseases. Frankly, I’d hope that any parent would opt out of, say, testing for Huntington’s – why in the world would you want a death sentence hanging over your head for your entire life? Newborn screening should be for treatable diseases and disorders, nothing more. in these tests are past on to society.

Granted, I have no firm statistics for that belief, but I’m pretty sure they’re out there. Likewise, I’m pretty sure that the families objecting to these screenings – the ones with a bakers dozen of children (or close to it) – are the ones that can’t afford to have a child disabled by phenylketonuria or other treatable genetic deficiencies.

So what happens when someone opts out of these newborn screenings, and then later on finds out their kid is afflicted with one of the treatable diseases that are screened for? Can we really punish the child for the parents mistakes, not treating it because of the decisions the parents made? No, we can’t – there’s nothing moral or right about that decision. We don’t punish children for their parents stupidity, no matter how tempting it might be. So we get an added strain on social resources, a burden that doesn’t have to exist or be there, simply because the parents didn’t want to.

This seems, in a word, broken.

Then again, I don’t believe in religious exemptions for vaccinations, either. Public health triumphs that of the individual, or at least that’s my inclination at the moment (ask me again at the end of the semester – my public health ethics class might change my mind).

But beyond all that, why are we allowing parents to make bad medical decisions for their children? There are plenty of states that say “that’s nice that it’s your religion, but your tot is too young to be deciding what religion they want to follow, so no faith healing for meningitis, thanks – get thine child to thee hospital!” Isn’t the basic idea that parents need to keep the kid alive until the kid is old enough to make their own decisions? Shouldn’t this equally apply to newborn screenings, that the parents should be required to know if they need to put their kid on a special diet to prevent mental deficiencies that could be avoided through proper nutrition? Doesn’t a child have the right to a healthy life from birth, not just when sickness occurs?