Legal and Ethical Dilemmas Surrounding Prayer as a Method of Alternative Healing for Children

  • G. Steven Neeley
Part of the Biomedical Ethics Reviews book series (BER)

Abstract

The law has long recognized the right of the mentally competent adult to determine her own means of health care. As such, the competent adult is free to shun traditional forms of medicine in favor of various alternative measures, including religious and spiritual healing. Moreover, a parent has tradionally held an almost absolute right to the custody and control of her children. The right of parental freedom includes the right of the parent to raise the child according to her religious beliefs, and she is generally free to pursue spiritual means of healing alone for her child. In fact, a majority of states provide exemptions to their child abuse and neglect laws for spiritual treatment.

The general right of a parent to make healthcare decisions on behalf of a minor child becomes problematic when the parent opts for a course of treatment for the child that not only falls outside the domain of “traditional” medicine, but seems to adversely affect the minor’s health. The spiritual healing exemptions to child abuse and neglect laws are particularly troublesome in this regard.

This chapter will briefly expound upon the right of the mentally competent adult to effect her own healthcare decisions. It will proceed to consider the right of the incompetent adult to make similar choices. The chapter will then survey the treacherous terrain of treatment decisions made on behalf of children, and in particular, the difficulties engendered by spiritual healing exemptions to child abuse and neglect laws. All told, the chapter will suggest that the legal, ethical, and philosophical issues surrounding the prayer-treatment exemptions present a veritable Gordian knot, which the courts are only beginning to untangle.

Keywords

Child Abuse Supra Note Spiritual Healing Religious Denomination Alternative Healing 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes and References

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

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  • G. Steven Neeley

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