Lots of people are talking today about the case of Daniel Hauser (right), an illiterate 13-year old who, under the guidance of his parents, refused chemotherapy and ran off when the courts refused to go along with him. (Picture from eFitnessNow.)
An arrest warrant has now been issued on him and his mother, Colleen.
This hits close to home for me because last year a neighbor made the same decision. But she is an adult. I saw her again a week ago. She looked good but smiled and noted her hair was a wig. Maybe her story will have a happy ending.
Daniel's probably won't. Call it child abuse if you like, call it a case of religious liberty. Knowing that mental attitude can impact the chance of a cure, it's hard to see someone living if they have to be strapped into the chemo chair like it's the death gurney.
If Daniel were an adult there would be no case, as with my neighbor. But while this case is stark, there are millions of smaller cases like it happening every year. Cases that, unlike this one, do impact you directly.
When parents refuse to vaccinate their kids, whether against the flu or against common childhood killers, they don't just put themselves at risk. They put the rest of us at risk, too. At ScienceBlogs, PalMD puts it this way:
The current resurgence in epidemic diseases lays not at the door of poor policy, poverty, or corrupt governments, but at the feet of the dishonest ideologues who stand in the way of the health of your children and mine.
The damage done to Daniel Hauser is being done just to him, and to his parents. Hodgkin's Lymphoma is not contagious. But other diseases are, and the attitude shown by the Hausers in this case is increasingly common in our society.
What is worrisome is that, increasingly, public opinion is on the side of medical refuseniks. After a 16 year-old Virginia boy refused the same care Hauser is refusing, the state passed a law making the age of consent to treatment there 14.
If the belief system is consistent, courts will let members deny modern society entirely, as in the case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder, holding that Amish children could not be made to attend high school.
Religious groups across the spectrum seem to feel they are in a struggle for control of their flocks, not just with science, but with modern society. To an extent they're right.
But if you're going to deny the results of science, don't pick and choose. Don't drive a car, or use a flush toilet, or an antibiotic hand wash. Withdraw entirely and don't burden the rest of us.
Want to pretend that only native medicine is real, like the Hausers? Fine. Turn off your TV, your PC, your telephone, and walk away. But accept that your median age at death will likely be under 40.