Tuesday, 27 July 2010

More religious healing (child abuse) in Oregon

Viewing pictures of victims of acts of questionable morality (and even use of the word 'victim') increases the likelihood of making emotive rather than rational judgements of the culpability of the actors/perpetrators. However, an Oregonian op-ed, about an 8 month girl whose parents preferred Christ's healing power to that of doctors, shows the astonishing effects of faith in the form of a huge haemangioma that may cause the girl to lose sight in the affected eye (image from oregonlive.com).

Perhaps the only way such treatment could not be labelled child abuse is a distinction between acts and omissions. As Jonathan Glover (whose tidy desk policy speaks to his philosophical credentials) states:
...in certain contexts, failure to perform an act, with certain foreseen bad consequences of that failure, is morally less bad than to perform a different act which has the identical foreseen bad consequences. It is worse to kill someone than to let them die. (Glover, J. Causing Death and Saving Lives. 1977. Penguin. p.93).
The doctrine of distinction between acts and omissions is often invoked, for example, to explain why we are less morally culpable for the death of a child in Africa through failure to give to charity than we are for deliberately running over a child in our country. In such cases the remoteness of cause/effect is frequently invoked to explain our moral hunch that the latter is grossly more culpable than the former. However, if my child has crawled into the path of my car as I reverse, and I am fully aware of that, then I am no less liable for resultant injury than ifI intentionally place the child there just before backing the car out. There is no remoteness of cause and effect to invoke the acts/omissions distinction of crawling versus being placed there, just as no distinction can be made in the Oregon cases of blinding a child versus letting the child go blind through failure to seek medical help.

However, the courts in Orgeon continue to protect parents who, for faith reasons, do not seek medical treatment for their children. According to the state medical office, more than 20 childen of parents who belong to the same church as the girl pictured above have died of treatable illnesses. My suspicion is that the courts think little of leniency to those of faith (not unlike Cherie Blair showing clemency to a man who broke another's jaw in a fight, simply because he was a man of faith; AC Grayling's take on the matter here). Whilst it is always reprehensible for religious persons to be treated more leniently by the criminal justice system than the non-religious, it's particularly ironic to adopt such a position when faith itself is the cause of the criminality! Maybe photos such as that above can help combat such misplaced tolerance towards the results of 'faith', no matter how emotive they may be.

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