Summary: Balancing Parental Authority & Childhood Well Being
Traditionally, there are few things American cherish more than the freedom of religion as embodied by the First Amendment and their families. Normally, these ideals do not conflict all that much since these work together to allow the greatest good for the greatest number. However, as aberrant theologies gain in prominence, these social pillars have the potential of increasingly coming into conflict.
As a religious sect adhering to a legalistic view of salvation, the Jehovah Witnesses believe that it is a matter of eternal importance to avoid blood transfusions at all costs, even at the price of health and life itself. It is generally accepted that parents have the right to raise their children in compliance with the beliefs of the respective family’s faith. To adherents of the Watchtower Society, this means they ought to be able to refuse medical treatment for their children requiring blood transfusions. However, as the institution charged with overseeing the physical well being of those residing within its boundaries (especially for those unable to do so for themselves), the state might have other priorities as to whether or not an ailing child receives a blood transfusion.
What makes such an example so compelling is the variety of ethical issues of the most visceral variety involved. Foremost among these is the freedom of religion.
Here in the United States, citizens are allowed to believe what they want and pretty much permitted to live according to these principles so long as they do not infringe upon the well being and liberties of others from an activist standpoint. Relatedly, it is believed parents have the right to raise their children in accord with these principles and overall children are better off under the care of parents that genuinely love them than under detached bureaucracies. That said, the state has the obligation to protect the physical well-being of those that cannot do so for themselves. Unfortunately, this may often include small children unable to defend themselves against parents that do not have their priorities in order.
Fundamental to the American conception of human rights is the phrase contained in the Declaration of Independence of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Without life, the other two are essentially meaningless.
As such, in most instances life must take precedence, especially in cases where the individual for whom the decision is being made is unable to make an informed one on their own. If the Jehovah Witness child was a teenager or an intelligent adolescent that refused medical treatment with the consent of the parents, the state should mind its own business and refrain from interference. It is generally considered improper to force treatment upon someone that does not want it since is their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that is at stake. However, two year olds are unable to make such decisions on their own and it would not be right for parents on their own to deny liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a child whose life is in need of direct emergency medical intervention.