Religion is no ground for refusing lifesaving care

November 5, 2013

When parents’ religious or spiritual beliefs prevent children from getting necessary medical care, pediatricians should intervene and report the parents to state child protective services agencies for medical abuse and neglect, reiterates a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

 

When parents’ religious or spiritual beliefs prevent children from getting necessary medical care, pediatricians should intervene and report the parents to state child protective services agencies for medical abuse and neglect, reiterates a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In addition, the AAP’s Committee on Bioethics says that states with religious exemptions to child abuse and neglect laws should repeal those exemptions because such religious exemption statutes “do not protect all children equally.”

What’s new in this latest policy statement is that the committee says that public health care funds should not be used to cover alternative unproven religious or spiritual healing practices. This would mean, among other things, that Medicaid and Medicare would no longer pay for care provided at Christian Science sanatoria and other religious nonmedical health care institutions. The panel says that government funds should be used only for “established, effective therapies,” and that paying for spiritual healing practices “may inadvertently engender medical neglect” and “inappropriately legitimize these practices as appropriate medical treatment.”

The committee explains that although respecting parents’ wishes regarding the care of their children is of paramount importance, when the circumstances involve the possible death of, or permanent disability to, a child, the choice to withhold care because of religious or spiritual beliefs rises to the level of medical neglect and abuse. When that happens, pediatricians should report parents, whether or not the parents’ decision is based on religious or spiritual beliefs. 

 

 

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