Is religion a form of child abuse? Part II

PZ Myers at Pharyngula examines this question in an entirely different case. This is the case of 14 year old Jehovah Witness Dennis Linberg. Dennis died on Wednesday night at a Seattle area hospital because he refused to accept a life saving transfusion on religious grounds.This is, indeed, a parent’s worse nightmare. Your child finds religion, in this case from some crazy religious aunt, and that religion leads the child to his death.[ADDED: Go see this commentary by Orac]

Doctors diagnosed the boy’s leukemia in early November. They began chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital, but stopped a week ago because his blood count was too low, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. The boy refused the transfusion on religious grounds.However, his birth parents, Lindberg and Rachel Wherry, who do not have custody and flew from Boise, Idaho, to be at the hearing, believed their son should have had the transfusion and suggested he had been unduly influenced by his aunt, who is also a Jehovah’s Witness.[source]

The final decision as to whether the boy should be forced to recieve the blood transplant came from John Meyer, a county judge, who said:

I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision. … I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy.

And with that, the judge, and the child’s religious aunt, killed Dennis.

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28 Responses to Is religion a form of child abuse? Part II

  1. TJ says:

    Hi Greg,I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I can understand why such a news story would upset people. It’s always tragic when a young person dies, especially when it seems so senseless.But Jehovah’s Witnesses remain guided by their principles, found in the Bible, regardless of what others consider the wise course. The Bible teaches us that we should abstain from blood, due to its inherent value in God’s eyes and the stated acceptable uses of it.Of course, many today feel that one’s religious beliefs are a silly (or even abusive) reason to refuse a course of action that may very well save one’s life. But even Jesus Christ chose to remain loyal to God over saving himself, and we view him as a model for everyone (children included). Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people acted as Jesus did in all aspects of life?Perhaps it would be helpful to frame this in another context; picture Germany in the 1930s. The peer pressure (along with the Gestapo) made it the ‘wise’ choice to ally oneself with the Nazis. Along with that, continual propaganda undermined the principles that many there had held, until they got to the point that the Final Solution was up and running.Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a people, refused to concede to this ‘wise’ and popular course and chose to stick to the principles found in the Bible. Thus they remained good citizens where they could, but they refused to join the Nazi party or the military, give they ‘Heil Hitler’ salutation (which was used everywhere), and they would not go along with Hitler’s twisted agenda. They resisted peacefully. (See http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005394 for more info on this)Because of this, many of them were thrown into concentration camps, and all of them faced severe persecution daily. Now, was it abusive of them to allow their children to become subjects of persecution and even face the possibility of death because of the principles they taught them?I don’t think so. I think they were teaching them to be young persons of principle, and this saved them from making choices they would have later regretted. Of course, you may not feel that a child conscientiously refusing a blood transfusion is the same as a child conscientiously refusing to support Hitler, but it is all based on each individual’s (even children’s) loyalty to Jehovah God and his standards. We believe that Jehovah is the Creator and has the power to resurrect us from the dead if we remain faithful to him.Thank you for allowing me to comment.Best Regards,TJ

  2. jklein says:

    TJ, convincing someone to kill themselves based on something you have no evidence for is abuse at best, murder at worst. All of the flowerly language, references to your “people”, and arbitrary interpretations of the Bible won’t change that.

  3. TJ says:

    What evidence are you referring to jklein? Do you believe that a person should give up his principles just to save his own life?Thanks,TJ

  4. Nathaniel says:

    I’ve got to say, that really sucks. I’m not going to go bashing anyone’s religion, and I’ve got to say, this kid did make a choice. There are a few reasons why I am OK with this:1. It was the child’s choice (whether he was brainwashed or not).2. We cannot override a person’s choice because we think it’s wrong.3. It would have been wrong to violate this person’s body if that was what they believed we would do.4. The kid had leukemia! He was either exposed to something narly, or had a genetic predisposition. Either way, he shouldn’t be contributing genetic material back into the gene pool.The last statement is pretty heartless… but genetics and survival have no heart. Medicine already increases the lifespan and survival rate of genetically flawed individuals. As far as nature is concerned, the sick are supposed to die.Now I’m going to talk about religion… from a religious point of view (which is rare for me… believe me).God gave us our minds. He gave us the ability to understand and learn. This understanding has led us to understand how we work, what makes us tick. This understanding has led to medicine which can help to increase lifespan and decrease human suffering. Thusly, God gave us the ability to save the lives of others through the use of this knowledge.Furthermore, blood is life. People donate this blood and they thusly “give their life” for others. I can’t think of anything more altruistic (and thusly religious… and consequently “Christian”) that a person could do. If Christians are indeed to attempt to be “Christ-like” then shouldn’t all Christians be giving their blood to save the lives of others? Just as Christ did?Also, I want to see the verses in the bible that specifically deny people the option of consuming blood. Even if such a verse does exist, obviously the authors of the bible had no concept of an actual “blood transfusion”. They where likely referring to drinking blood… which doesn’t really convey any health benefits or sustain any function. But it can serve as a method of disease transferal. Such a verse would be comparable to those which deny us the option of eating pork. Pork is loaded with parasites and if not cooked properly, could lead to severe health issues. Such kinds of advice where just practical for that time period, but don’t serve much of a purpose in a modern world.All in all though, I think the right thing happened here. The kid’s religious values where not infringed upon, his freedom of choice was preserved, and his potentially bad genes didn’t further pollute the gene pool. Granted… he really didn’t have to die for the last one.The only issue now is that the religion told this kid that he would be “unclean” if he did have a blood transfusion. The resulting denial of a blood transfusion led to his death. So the real issue is that faulty religious logic killed a child. I suppose we all have to right to believe what we want to. However, I want to see it backed up in scripture. AND I want to see how such a verse can be considered a denial of blood transfusions.In the end, the kid believed that Jesus died for the his sins. Even if he did become unclean, isn’t his forgiveness supposed to make him clean? Man, I want to start bashing religion! But I refuse to digress. Instead, I’ll just leave it with those questions.Interesting post. It certainly brings many fascinating facets of religion to light.

  5. Siamang says:

    Hi TJ,First of all, I’ve got to hand it to you as the first person I’ve ever heard to use the word “Nazi” in a religious discussion that wasn’t comparing their discussion opponents to them. I think you may have invented the “Reverse Godwin”.Although I don’t think your analogy applies, for two reasons.One reason is, in Nazi Germany, the harm that the children of JW’s faced was at the hands of the Nazis. Thus, the harm they faced was the direct actions of the Nazis for which the Nazis were morally responsible, not the parents. Futher, acceding to the Nazis would in itself be contributing to the harm of possibly a greater number of people outside their family group. This is therefore not the same as sacrificing your child by withholding medical treatment. Rather it’s morally brave to decide to stand against the harming of others.The other reason is that doing something right in the past doesn’t mean that what you are doing now is therefore right. Just because the JW’s reading of scripture led them to an appropriate moral decision in the 1930′s does not mean that current JW’s reading of scripture leads to an appropriate moral decision in this case today.The key to assessing the morality of a decision is the demonstration of harm, or the reasonable expectation of an increased risk of harm.By those lights, the harm here is clear: a boy lost his life.

  6. Siamang says:

    “The kid had leukemia! He was either exposed to something narly, or had a genetic predisposition. Either way, he shouldn’t be contributing genetic material back into the gene pool.”I have a friend who survived childhood leukemia. He’s now a parent.I take strong exception to your statement, Nathaniel.You clearly have the worst possible idea of what our moral obligations are in facing disease. You also have zero idea of how genetics work… a weakness to certain types of leukemia may be preserved in the genepool because they are a side-effect of a beneficial trait… like sickle-cell and malaria.Evolution is smarter than you are, Nathaniel. You cannot play God and say that you know what is genetically preferable and genetically unprefereable.”He was either exposed to something narly”Listen, we don’t KNOW what causes various types of Leukemia. Some factors may be viruses, or normal ionizing radiation from the sun. So are you saying that people who catch viruses shouldn’t be saved by medical science?What are the moral implications of your assertion, Nathaniel?

  7. Nathaniel says:

    I happen to think that medical society is crippling us on the genetic level. Natural selection has been thrown out the window because almost anyone who can procreate does. But that is beyond the scope of this post.I’m all for people living longer, healthier, and happier lives. But if it was me with such a disease, I would not procreate. Although I have no right to enforce such a belief on anyone. With that being said I suppose that such a point was also beyond the scope of this post. I stand by it, but I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.

  8. TJ says:

    Hi Siamang,Thanks for your response.You concluded your first objection by saying, “it’s morally brave to decide to stand against the harming of others.” I agree. But we view the mishandling of blood as just as immoral as harming others; therefore given that premise, it is also morally brave to stand against the misuse of blood.Now I understand that you may not have the same view of blood as we do, and so you wouldn’t consider a blood transfusion as immoral. But then, my question would be, what are you basing your view of morality on? You said it depends on harm, but where do you get that from? Does the harm just have to be towards humans, or are animals included? Are there any immoral actions in your view that aren’t related to harm?Your second objection was “that doing something right in the past doesn’t mean that what you are doing now is therefore right.” I wasn’t trying to argue that. I was simply framing our consistent position in a different context to make a point. Jehovah’s Witnesses try to adhere to the same Biblical principles in any situation, despite whether or not you and others feel that it’s an “appropriate moral decision.”If you asked the typical German in the 1930s, you may very well have gotten the answer that resisting the Nazis was not an “appropriate moral decision” and amounted to abuse of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ children. This person may have not viewed Jews as humans, at least in the same way, and so they felt morally justified in the Nazi cause. Do you see the problem with all this? Throughout history, given the time and place you live, the popular view of right and wrong has changed, and so the commonly-held view of what is an “appropriate moral decision” is relative.But God’s view of right and wrong does not change, and is appropriate in any era, in any region. So there are Jehovah’s Witnesses in virtually every land on earth right now that stick to the same moral code, having the same respect for blood and refusing to hate others despite the incitement of the local propaganda.Thanks,TJ

  9. cyc says:

    it’s important to point out that jahovah’s witnesses don;t represent all religions.Not all religions require this type of “sacrifice”.

  10. agentutah says:

    As sad as this case is, it’s also an example of how seriously this country should take it’s statement of freedom of religion. I may strongly disagree with your religious beliefs, but I will fight for your right to practice them. We’re in America, and what that judge did was correct under our law and I applaud him for it. So long as his beliefs caused no harm to another person (despite, perhaps, the emotional stress I’m sure it caused his family), Dennis had full blown American rights to do what he did.

  11. Siamang says:

    “Dennis had full blown American rights to do what he did.”You know, I agree with everything that agentutah said here. I think that morality nevertheless commands that we speak up against this evil done in the name of a religion. It’s past time the propogators of this deadly superstition recognized their moral duty to protect life, not sacrifice it without cause.

  12. sinned34 says:

    But God’s view of right and wrong does not change, and is appropriate in any era, in any region. This is patently false. God allowed multiple marriages, slavery, and genocide in the Old Testament, yet these are considered wrong by Witness standards these days, are they not?

  13. Siamang says:

    “I agree. But we view the mishandling of blood as just as immoral as harming others; therefore given that premise, it is also morally brave to stand against the misuse of blood.”You are assuming the very thing you are asserting. You can’t hide behind “God said it, I believe it and that settles it” and still assert that you are making a reasoned argument.I can say “I view suffering a witch to live as just as immoral as harming others, therefore given that premise, it is also morally brave to kill members of the wiccan religion.”Asserting something IS moral is not the same thing as demonstrating that it is indeed moral.”But then, my question would be, what are you basing your view of morality on?”A large number of things, and I could write a novel describing it all, but not killing kids is a good start.”You said it depends on harm, but where do you get that from?”From a desire not to be harmed, and from empathy which shows me that harming others harms me as well as putting me at risk from others. Society thrives when there is a surplus of generosity.”Does the harm just have to be towards humans, or are animals included? “Well, let’s just start with not killing children to support a superstition, if we can just end that in my lifetime (yeah, right) we can start worrying about animals.”This person may have not viewed Jews as humans, at least in the same way, and so they felt morally justified in the Nazi cause. Do you see the problem with all this? “Yes, but not the same way you do, I suspect. All I see are people willing to kill for an ideology based on irrational fear.”Throughout history, given the time and place you live, the popular view of right and wrong has changed, and so the commonly-held view of what is an “appropriate moral decision” is relative.”I disagree. I believe there is an absolute direction to morality, and that is “away from harm”. That people in the past were worse at it than we were, or better at placating themselves that they really weren’t that bad of people for having slaves, doesn’t mean that that directionality has changed. The directionality never has and never will change… it always did and always will point AWAY from avoidable harm.In utter fact, when societies have NOT heeded that directionality is or was because an irrational ideology told them there was a greater, invisible harm (hell, uncleanness, God’s invisible wrath, breakdown of the family, weakness of the proletariat) just looming beyond the horizon if people disobeyed the Priesthood/Dictator and (shudder) helped a gay, or a runaway slave or a Jew or whatever the societal outcast was at the time.”But God’s view of right and wrong does not change, and is appropriate in any era, in any region.”What a load of boloney. “God’s View?” You don’t know God’s view. All you know is what your oligarchy of priests tells you… and they always tell you the same thing: “Submit”.Even within Christianity’s mythology, God’s view has changed. Is it right or wrong to stone someone for adultery? That depends on if you’re asking Moses or Jesus.Is it right or wrong to hold a slave? The Bible is at best unclear and at worst pro-slavery. The Bible is mute on the perverse moral evil of genocide. But the Bible is ADAMANT that we shoudn’t eat shrimp. Good thing it was crystal clear on that one.I mean really, here we are in the 21st century. And I’m actually having a discussion with someone who thinks that CHILDREN should DIE rather than get lifesaving medical help, and they’re saying they’ve got a great moral system!Only in a religion could such an abysmally wrong situation be given any reverence, leeway or indeed POLITENESS. It deserves nothing but scorn.TJ, you’re a nice polite person, and I want to be polite to you as well. But there’s a point where I’ve got to stand up for morality too, and I stand against you on this one.

  14. PalMD says:

    First, to the neo-eugenicists above, you are lacking an understanding of genetics, evolution, medicine, and biology. Read more.To the JW, make whatever decisions you want regarding your body. A teenager is not an adult—we deprive teenagers of many basic rights, and the right to give or withhold consent for medical care should be one of these.

  15. Greg Laden says:

    This is patently false. God allowed multiple marriages, slavery, and genocide in the Old Testament, yet these are considered wrong by Witness standards these days, are they not?Not only that, but god was fairly specific in some cases as to how many cattle, virgins, pieces of gold, etc. would be his cut when his armies attacked the enemy.

  16. To the JW, make whatever decisions you want regarding your body. A teenager is not an adult—we deprive teenagers of many basic rights, and the right to give or withhold consent for medical care should be one of these.Exactly. The kid couldn’t legally drink alcohol, for example, for another seven years. So he can in effect commit suicide, but he can’t do something that’s far less dangerous?The judge is an ass.

  17. Orac says:

    But God’s view of right and wrong does not change, and is appropriate in any era, in any region.

    If that’s the case, then why was it not considered a sin for Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept a blood transfusion until 1945 and why wasn’t it a disfellowshipping offense until 1961. Wikipedia actually gives a pretty good summary:

    Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watchtower Society, referenced the Apostolic Decree recorded in the Bible in Acts 15:29. He wrote that �The things mentioned were merely to guard against stumbling themselves or becoming stumbling blocks to others.�[81] In 1909, Russell wrote concerning abstinence from blood, �it was necessary to the peace of the Church that the Gentiles should observe this matter also.� Regarding stipulations of the Apostolic Decree, Russell concluded, �these items thus superadded to the Law of Love should be observed by all spiritual Israelites as representing the Divine will.�[82]After Russell’s death in 1916, Joseph Franklin Rutherford succeeded Russell as president of the Watchtower organization. Under his administration Jehovah�s Witnesses depicted uses of blood as heroic and the Lord�s work.[83][84] In 1925, blood transfusion was mentioned in an issue of Golden Age. It reported on Mr. B. W. Tibble who donated blood on forty-five separate occasions. The article highlighted his refusal of payment for donating, and the honor accordingly bestowed upon him by Order of the king.[85] In 1927 the Watchtower organization addressed blood, stating, �God told Noah that every living creature� must not eat the blood��.[86] In 1931 this was expounded by the Watchtower organization teaching �that it was not the eating of the blood that God objected to, but it was bringing the blood of the beast in contact with the blood of man.�[87] At this time the Watchtower organization taught that human blood was sacred and that it was wrong to contaminate human blood with animal blood.[88] In 1940 while discussing interesting medical news, the Watchtower organization reported on a woman who accidentally shot herself with a revolver in her heart and survived a major surgical procedure during which an attending physician donated a quart of his own blood for transfusion.[89]After Rutherford�s death in 1942, the Watchtower organization (under Nathan Homer Knorr�s administration) wrote in 1944, �the stranger was forbidden to eat or drink blood, whether by transfusion or by the mouth� and that this applied �in a spiritual way to the consecrated persons of good-will today, otherwise known as �Jonadabs� of the Lord�s �other sheep.��[90] In 1945, the application of the doctrine on blood was expanded to prohibit blood transfusions of whole blood, whether allogeneic or autologous. [91] While the prohibition didn’t specify any punitive measures for accepting a transfusion, by January of 1961 it became a disfellowshipping offence to conscientiously accept a blood transfusion.[92] This represented an admitted shift toward increased strictness by the Watchtower organization imposing additional obligation upon the community of Jehovah�s Witnesses.[93] As part of this doctrinal shift, the Watchtower organization warned that accepting a blood transfusion could prevent them from living eternally in God’s new world, the hope held by members:”It may result in the immediate and very temporary prolongation of life, but that at the cost of eternal life for a dedicated Christian.”[94]

    Some “eternal” law.It sounds to me as though the Watchtower has gone back and forth at least a couple of times on the issue of whether blood transfusion is permitted. So, how do we know whether its interpretation of God’s law now is correct or whether it was correct back in in the early part of the century, when the Watchtower considered it heroic to donate blood to save lives?We don’t, and neither do you.

  18. Siamang says:

    “Not only that, but god was fairly specific in some cases as to how many cattle, virgins, pieces of gold, etc. would be his cut when his armies attacked the enemy.”Hey, not just those, but also FORESKINS!What purpose did those serve? Was someone making a cape?

  19. PalMD says:

    Old saying: “Never eat gribines at the mohel’s house” (look it up).

  20. Orac says:

    By the way, my view of the Dennis Linberg case is here.

  21. Anne says:

    As someone pointed out in an earlier post, a 14 year old not an adult. Though they are old enough so that their desires and opinions should be taken into consideration in any decisions affecting them, they still do not have — IMO — the maturity to understand certain kinds of decisions. It’s too bad that the only kind of care the kid had that was consistent, was from a JW aunt. If, for example, he’d had a Catholic aunt, this would probably not have been a problem(there might have been other problems, but at least the whole “blood transfusion” thing would not have been a problem). Bottom line: kids that age are still very< .i> impressionable, and someone “in authority” can influence their decisions, even their lives, even if indirectly. Maybe he thought he was being “independent” as only a teenager can think, but while I don’t think the JW aunt was being “abusive”, I suspect she was very “manipulative”, even if for the most benign of reasons — in her mind.Anne G

  22. Nathaniel says:

    Alright, let me distill my opinions on the matter then… only what is most relavent.The child was obviously not an adult, the choice was thusly that of his legal guardians. Legally, they do have the right to accept or deny medical care.The question then is “was it morally the right choice?” Obviously, they thought it was… or they wouldn’t have killed the child in their custody.So we move on to the basis of that choice, their religion. I still want to see specific biblical verses that say “taking blood into the body is bad.” However, even if such verse(s) exist, the bible was written when there was no concept of a “blood transfusion”. Thusly, reading ANYTHING in the bible as “no blood transfusions” is taking it out of context.So, the JW’s do have the right to say “I don’t believe in blood transfusions.” That’s fine, that’s their right. However, they claim to follow the bible in a more “correct” way than every other Christain. Thusly, I think it’s fair that they justify this belief. Only they can’t.The problem here is that whether they where right or wrong, they have the right to deny their child medical care. PERIOD! I defend their right to uphold their beliefs. Even if I don’t believe their beliefs to be morally right. Not much else to it than that.

  23. OriGuy says:

    Nathaniel, read the original story again. The parents are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. The child was converted by his aunt, who was his legal guardian. The parents had lost (or given up) custody because of drug problems and were getting their lives together.

  24. Nathaniel says:

    My references to “their child” was that the child was under her custody and therefore “legally” hers. It specifically states that the child was not under the custody of his parents. Now if the term “custody” was misleadingly used here to simply denote that he was not at his parents house… then that’s another story. If the parents where the legal guardians of the child and they said “give him the blood!” then yeah, judge did it wrong. However, I doubt that was the case. No judge would flat out ignore the request of a child’s legal guardians on the child’s behalf.I’m just talking about legal guardians. It seems to me as if the Aunt was the legal guardian at the time. That can’t really be ignored. And, that’s not really my point. I’m saying “legally, the right thing happened” however “spiritually, the wrong thing happened because there is no religious texts that state ‘no blood transfusions’”. That’s my point.

  25. gex says:

    I never do this normally, but this thread had enough of these that I just must speak out.The past tense of “they are” is “they were”. It is not “they where”.

  26. Mark says:

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are an arrogant self promoting cult from the get-go they will not take NO for an answer.Don’t let them recruit your loved ones,think of David Koresh & Jim Jones!

  27. Sandy says:

    I think it’s so sad that this boy died because of his belief. Jesus died for you to save us and we don’t need to make any of these sacrifies he did them for us. There is nothing wrong in having a blood transfusion God doesn’t want us to have to lie in pain and then die. I think people should start reading the bible more carefully.

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