Medicine Politics Quackery Religion

Oregon: On the verge of stripping legal protection based on religion from parents who choose prayer instead of medicine

Over the years, I’ve said it many times. Competent adults have the right (or should have the right) to choose or refuse any medical treatment they wish for any reason. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous the reason might be. If a competent adult believes that magic water (i.e., homeopathy) can cure him of cancer, we can try to persuade him that such a view is at odds with reality, but in the end personal autonomy and the right to self-determination mean that there will be a few people who will refuse effective medication in favor of quackery. A major force in motivating people to choose unscientific medical treatments is all too often religion. For instance, there’s the nonsense that is Scientology castigating psychiatry and claiming that a device that looks as though it were constructed from leftover bits and pieces from the dumpster behind the local Radio Shack can diagnose all sorts of things about your personality and health. Then there are faith healers like John of God, Issam Nemeth, or Benny Hinn.

Most vulnerable of all to faith healing quackery are children. Over the years, I’ve been enormously depressed to record and comment on the deaths of children who had medical care withheld by their parents in favor of prayer because the parents were fervently convinced that prayer can heal. Madeline Neumann, for instance, died a miserable death from untreated diabetic ketoacidosis because her parents believed that the power of prayer would heal her. Madeline’s was an utterly pointless death. Even up to very close to the end, doctors could have saved her with intravenous hydration, correction of her electrolyte disturbances, and, of course, insulin to bring her blood glucose under control. These same parents ignored the desperate entreaties of friends and neighors to take Madeline to the hospital as her health rapidly declined, proclaiming Madeline’s illness a “test of faith” for them. Traditionally, the law has stated that adults can refuse treatment for any reason. In essence, adults are free to let themselves suffer and die, but they are not free to subject their children to the same fate by withholding medical care from them. Unfortunately, given the privileged position of religion in society, many states have laws that specifically protect religious child abuse through the withholding of medical care, as CHILD, Inc. documents in addition to the types of horrific deaths children have suffered due to religion-inspired lack of medical care.

Unfortunately, such is the pull of religion in this country that in many cases parents who let their children die by choosing prayer instead of medicine are often not prosecuted. When they are prosecuted, often they are not convicted. In addition, many states have religious exemption laws that make prosecution difficult or impossible. Indeed, I was shocked that Madeline’s parents were actually not only prosecuted but her mother was actually convicted for her death despite the law being stacked against the prosecutors. Laws exempting parents using prayer instead of medicine to treat their children are indeed frighteningly common, but that’s not the only way religious beliefs are privileged when it comes to children. Consider vaccine exemptions, for example. Nearly every state allows parents to refuse vaccines for their children based on religion alone. Many fewer states allow philosophical exemptions.

One state, it appears, is actually taking steps to try to strip legal protections for parents who choose to treat their children solely with faith and prayer:

Oregon lawmakers will take the first step today toward ending legal protections for parents who rely solely on faith to treat their dying children.

The bill targets the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church with a long history of children dying from treatable medical conditions. A previous crackdown restricted but did not eliminate religious immunity from state criminal statutes.

Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, said deaths of three Followers children in recent years – all without medical intervention – prompted her to introduce the bill. “Such gross and unnecessary neglect cannot be allowed, even if the parents are well-meaning,” Tomei said.

The legislation appears primed for approval. It has wide support both political parties, prosecutors, medical providers and child-protection groups, and there is no organized opposition.

When I first discovered this story, quite frankly, I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised, but surprised. This is a very good thing indeed. Religion is not a permissible excuse for letting children die. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Yet for over thirty years in Oregon, Followers of Christ have allowed at least 20 children to die of treatable or curable diseases. Just last year alone, for example, one notorious case was that of Neil Beagley, a 16-year-old boy who died of urinary obstruction that could easily have been treated. About a year ago, his parents were finally convicted of negligent homicide. However, deaths from faith healing appeared to be kept “all in the family,” so to speak, because it was more than just Neil involved:

The two most recent cases to go to trial, involving the deaths of 15-month-old Ava Worthington and her teenage uncle, Neil Beagley, clearly showed that some church members will defy the law, even if it means a prison sentence.

Ava’s parents testified that they believed their faith-healing rituals – prayer, anointing with oil, fasting and laying on of hands – were working right to the minute the girl died of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection.

Beagley’s parents testified that they never considered taking their dying son to a hospital or calling 9-1-1, even when he stopped breathing.

Ava’s parents, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington, were found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter. Beagley’s parents, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, were convicted of criminally negligent homicide last year and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

An additional case came to trial last year as well. This time around, it was a 7 month old infant with a hemangioma. The infant, Alayna Wyland, developed a hemangioma near her eye. This is generally a treatable condition, with the hemangioma being a benign tumor. However, even though hemangiomas are generally benign, that doesn’t mean they can’t do damage. They tend to grow slowly, and, being very vascular, they can develop considerable blood flow. In Alayna’s case, the mass grew, pushing her eyeball down and its large blood vessels eroding the bone of her orbit. She was in danger of losing the vision in that eye. Yet her parents, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, let the hemangioma grow to this size. In Alayna’s case, precious time was lost, because, even though 95% of strawberry hemangiomas involute, the natural history of hemangiomas that do not is to grow slowly like this, sometimes to huge sizes. If they are treated early, often with surgical excision, this sort of horrific outcome can be prevented quite effectively.

It’s long past time that every state eliminate the protections that allow loving but misguided parents to use their religion to justify denying life-saving medical care to their children because they believe that their faith will heal their children. Right now, Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie is showing us the way in Oregon. One thing that gratifies me right now is that there appears to be little or no opposition to this law. Given how easily fundamentalists are able to hijack the concepts of freedom and parental duty to persuade even more moderate religious people that stripping protection for faith healing represents a direct assault on religious freedom, I would have expected more opposition. Maybe a couple of dead children and a baby going blind with a big red growth on her eyebrow made it hard to oppose a bill like this.

Still, the real test will come after the law is passed. The reason is that, stripped of protection based on religion, parents convicted of medical neglect leading to the death of a child could be prosecuted for homocide. The hard part is that such parents, if convicted, would then be subject to Oregon’s mandatory sentencing laws. They’d be facing real jail time–long sentences. The question will be whether prosecutors, juries, and judges will have the stomach for that. As much as I’d like to think it possible, a far better solution would be to educate the parents, or even to get them to accept the idea that doctors are actually tools through which God works his will. Unfortunately, so powerful is the pull of religions like Followers of Christ that it’s highly unlikely that that will happen. Worse, I don’t know that even the threat of long prison terms will deter religious zealots, but right now I don’t have any better ideas.

Here’s hoping that Tomei succeeds in getting this law passed and that it becomes a model for the rest of the country.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

67 replies on “Oregon: On the verge of stripping legal protection based on religion from parents who choose prayer instead of medicine”

Here’s hoping Oregon sees the light and protects children. Even from their parents. Especially from god and the insane religions that kill.

This is no different than parental abuse of children – abuse through shear neglect.

I really do hope they take care of this.

In the main Scientology is doubtlessly bunk but isn’t their position on psychiatry more scientific than not? I can’t recall seeing any good scientific evidence supporting psychiatry – or at least the “talking cure” brand.


The thing that makes me so angry with these cases – is that one can’t even really rail against the parents. They are doing precisely what they think is the best thing for their kids.

And it isn’t like they are unreasonable in that. Socially, to point out that prayer is inneffective, is to point out that the exact same God who it is highly impolite to challenge either doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care.

… and claiming that a device that looks as though it were constructed from leftover bits and pieces from the dumpster behind the local Radio Shack.

This sentence does not explain what the claim for the device is!

lff, Scientology are also against psychiatric drugs for established mental diseases. Many of which have been scientifically proven to alleviate symptoms.

Scientology E-meters are such common knowledge among my readership that I didn’t think there was a need to explain in detail what I was referring to.

Perhaps, but if you write a sentence with the words “claiming that”, you owe it to your readers (and the basic structure of the English language) to include a clause that contains the claim.

Otherwise you’re likely to see posts from your readers complaining that your grammar.

FYI, comments that do nothing but complain about grammar or spelling are usually immediately deleted as soon as I see them–and certainly after I correct any errors that I consider to need correcting. That is my general policy, as over the six years I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to truly detest grammar/spelling trolls. It’s nothing new, either. I’ve pointed this out many, many times.

Orac, did you see the article on naturopathy in Colorado in today’s Science Times? You might want to comment on it- it really does a horrible job of explaining why doctors object to naturopathy.

I have no idea on what the concept of paternal rights is based on anyway. Children, as soon as they are born, are entitled with the same rights as anybody else. As some rights require the ability to reason, they are withheld until they’re old enough to use them propperly. Some of those rights are given to the custodians. It is their privilege to be entrusted with them, not a right or anything, because you can’t own a human being.

Even if my religion believed, and stated in it’s holy scriptures, that adulterers must be stoned to death, anyone putting it into practice would be tried for murder.

Why don’t children get the same protection against religion as floozies and cheating men?

For instance, there’s the nonsense that is Scientology castigating psychiatry and claiming that a device that looks as though it were constructed from leftover bits and pieces from the dumpster behind the local Radio Shack.

I think he meant that the way the sentence is structured does not complete the thought. Perhaps it should have read “For instance, there’s the nonsense that is Scientology castigating psychiatry and claiming that a device that looks as though it were constructed from leftover bits and pieces from the dumpster behind the local Radio Shack can solve all of your problems.” or something like that. =)


Most of us will recognize you’re talking about the Scientology E-meter, but Jonathan is right — that sentence is grammatically incomplete. (“Claiming that a device” implies some explanation of said claim will follow.)

Great article and apologies for nitpicking. Love your work.

Sorry, Orac, I don’t see any trolling going on here. You left out a vital part of a sentence, and Jonathan mentioned it. When you seemed to miss his point entirely, I tried to clarify it. I can’t read Jonathan’s mind, but it’s entirely possible he was trying to be helpful. I know I was.

Sentences with whole chunks left out are hard to read and impede your ability to get your message across, as readers have to stop and take time to figure out what you meant rather than smoothly following the flow of your argument. This is true even if people with the appropriate background knowledge (which is not everyone who will read this post, unless you want to restrict your audience to people who are already longtime readers) can fill in the blanks. I know that if I had written such a sentence as the one in question, I’d like to be told about it so I could fix it. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but I don’t see the point in calling people names when they disagree.

I know that if I had written such a sentence as the one in question, I’d like to be told about it so I could fix it.

That’s what e-mail is for.

I write anywhere from 500 to 4,000 words a day (average between 1250 and 2500), almost every day. Mistakes happen, and I would put my record up against pretty much anyone’s. All comments about grammar and spelling (or sentence fragments or whatever) accomplish these day is to derail comment threads and annoy me in the process. Six years ago, this was not the case, but after six years of putting up with grammar/spelling snipes, I no longer have the patience to be nice and apologize and/or tell people that I’ve corrected my most egregious mistake. So I don’t do it anymore. I just delete the comment and, if appropriate, correct the mistake. Occasionally, I get annoyed enough to point out that that’s what I’m doing. Maybe that’s being pissy, but after six years I’ve decided that there are enough irritations in blogging to put up with grammar and spelling irritants like this.

And that’s the last I will say about this.

Now, no more comments about grammar and or spelling, please. From here on out, any comments that are primarily about grammar/spelling will be deleted (my judgment rules as to what constitutes “primarily”). So, please, everyone, stick to the topic at hand. Notice how the grammar comment has already derailed the thread. That’s what grammar and spelling comments do all too frequently, and that’s one reason they irritate the hell out of me.

In the main Scientology is doubtlessly bunk but isn’t their position on psychiatry more scientific than not? I can’t recall seeing any good scientific evidence supporting psychiatry – or at least the “talking cure” brand.

I am not a psychiatrist (thank the FSM), but here is my opinion.
There is good scientific support for certain types of “talk therapy” – cognitive/behavioral comes to mind. You may be thinking of psychoanalysis which used to be touted as the ultimate cure for neuroses and even psychotic conditions, but in retrospect is a pseudoscience that was extremely time consuming, expensive and had no scientifically valid support. Then there’s the likes of recovered memories and past-life regression. – serious and harmful woo-woo that used to be taken seriously in some academic psychiatric institutes.
So critics of psychiatry have a point – but the answer is better science, NOT Scientology.

This is what Scientology says about psychiatry:

As you can see, it goes far beyond simply “questioning” the scientific legitimacy of some of psychiatry. Scientology views psychiatry as evil to the core and characterizes it as an “industry of death” responsible for the Holocaust. It never ceases to amaze me how few people know just how utterly hostile and loony Scientology is when it comes to psychiatry (among many other things). I suppose it just goes to show how successful Scientology has been at PR.

What would this mean for religious exemptions for vaccinations?

Probably nothing. My interpretation is that this law only applies when a child has been injured or killed from faith healing. By stripping the religious exemption away, it leaves the parents to be prosecuted for abuse, neglect, or even negligent homicide, but I don’t think it has any bearing on preventative care.

I could be wrong, though.

Scientology is major bad news – there have been reports of human trafficing, violation of child labor laws, physical abuse & even deaths from various forms of deprivation (including food & water). I believe there are several on-going FBI investigations into the “Church.”

There have been various newspaper and magazine investigations that have revealed the seemy side of the organization – and the Church tends to retaliate fairly aggressively against these media outlets (and defectors from the church).

While I certainly applaud her efforts, I wonder( am I perhaps getting jaded?) *if her bill can survive the legislative process*. My own state has approximately 4,000 children whose parents now make use of the (recently loosened) religious exemption for vaccination; although the number has doubled in the past 5 years, it is *merely* around 1+% in the more affected counties like my own: 1.5% preschoolers vs. 1.1% all students ( Lindy Washburn; the Record; 2/7/2011).

An attempt to make the exemption more difficult to attain ( i.e. not remain virtually automatic- just write down “religious” and *Voila!* you have it.) has been tabled probably due, in no short measure, to a concerted phone/ e-mail campaign by LKH’s anti-vax group and its NYC metro area altmed activist counterparts ( and remember, Kirby lives in nearby Park Slope). Her “NJ Coalition for Vaccination Choice” also wants a “philosophical” exemption. Whenever measures restricting “health freedom” come up in state legislatures or in Congress, the call is sent out for an e-mail and phone campaign to squash them. And it is not strictly local ( see Mike Adams/ Gary Null/ Laibow, Stubblebine, Krakow ).

You might say that,”Well, isn’t Oregon a liberal, blue, educated, uh…*modern* state?” So is NJ I’m told. And that may be part of the problem. When the crunchies and the libertarians team up..( and in Oregon, the conservative religious may also join in support)… you could have a large group of very motivated individuals.

I still hope that she succeeds.

Very interesting article and I love Orac’s comments about the grammar/spelling police, who divert us from the topic at hand.

So, Madeline Kara Neumann’s parents are seeking a new trial, based on “incompetence” of their attorney at the original trial. It is a stunt to give them a “second bite of the apple”. It seems to me that the thrust of the original defense, that they were unaware of the seriousness of her condition, didn’t work so they have two totally different defenses, now; incompetence of the original attorney and if that doesn’t work their religious beliefs.

I wonder how many deaths of children whose parents have set religious beliefs, against vaccines and against such medicines as anti-convulsants go unreported…and unprosecuted.

Holy rolling tests of faith can be tragic for children, no doubt about it. Kids die from superstitious parents following cockamamie ideas. I went to elementary school with one such casualty, a really stupid death.

However, I am also aware of pitched battles where the doctor(s) or their institutions have been steadfastly wrong in light of subsequent results and data, the best answers had come steadily from the family.

So how we should decide who has final say? One problem with state seizures and horrific prison threats is that they invite outright chaos. We don’t need more of that.

“Neutral” education is a start, but may tend to be less than neutral.

Good for Oregon.

Used to be that “religion” was synonymous with “charity.” Then humans began inventing stupid, power-mad, greedy religions like Scientology. So now we have a crisis, because the special respect we once granted to religion is being abused for political, financial, and crazy purposes.

We need to categorize religions as charitable organizations, full stop. Then we can apply a social benefit test as they do in the UK, to determine if any particular group is behaving like a true charity or not.

Any charitable group trying to frighten citizens away from appropriate medical care for the sake of group cohesion, vitamin sales, or whatever, could have its social harm/benefit ratio studied and potetially have its charitable status yanked.

That’s the way to go.

prn – I certainly understand if the parents were trying some different kind of conventional therapy that may be at odds with their doctors’ opinion, but in this case, they are relying on nothing, literally nothing, to help their child.

It would be similar if their daughter was shot & lay bleeding in front of them & they decided that prayer was the answer.

Oh, and great news on the SCOTUS ruling. Not unexpected and the AoAers are going to lose their damn minds (well, what was left of them, anyway).

@ Lawrence: and AoA won’t be the only ones as anti-vax is important symbolically for other alt-medders** “There’ll be no joy in woo-ville”.

** not to mention, alt-meddlers.

@ mu: I read the article and it is great news, but not such great news for Age of Autism, etal. I’ll be looking for their “take” on the SCOTUS ruling.

The New England Journal of Medicine has a great article about the Vaccine Court, which also mentions some of the well-known cases regarding thimerisol; “Pandemic Vaccines-The Legal Landscape” The article also features cases regarding H1N1 vaccine and vaccine “shortages.”

titmouse #32–

Religion has never been synonymous with charity, practically or legally: there have always been religions that weren’t recognized as charities, charitable works that were not religious, and religious activities that, worthy or not, are in no meaningful sense charity. That isn’t just things like starting wars for religious reasons or using preaching as a justification for slavery. Paying someone to paint a religious scene, and putting the painting in your living room, is not charity. Nor is praying quietly in your room (as Jesus is said to have advised his followers to do). Neither of those, however worthy, is charity, because neither is done to help others.

Given that, the problem with your proposal is that it would never get past the people who want deductions and tax exemptions for everything a religious organization does. Housing your employees doesn’t suddenly become charity because they’re paid to preach instead of to paint houses or teach French. But churches don’t currently pay property tax on rectories. (I knew someone whose father had declared his home to be the church of his very own religion, for the tax exemption. My friend seemed more admiring than critical.)

Used to be that “religion” was synonymous with “charity.” Then humans began inventing stupid, power-mad, greedy religions like Scientology.

Are you saying that Scientology was the first incidence of religion being stupid, power-mad, and greedy? :p

More than a decade ago I saw a TV program (60 Minutes?) that featured a couple with ca. 14 children. They had prayed over a son with a treatable infection while he died. They were not prosecuted. Then they prayed over their daughter with type 1 diabetes, and had her anointed by a church elder before she died. (They were indignant at being prosecuted for that, I don’t know the outcome.)

Their defense was that they followed their instructions in the bible. A theologian was consulted by the TV show- he said that, yes, the bible says to have your sick people anointed- but it does not say “do not take them to a doctor.”

If any criticism of psychiatry by Scientology is right, it’s only right by accident. Scientology thinks that everything is wrong with psychiatry. According to Scientology, psychiatry is responsible for racism and the Holocaust. So if you’re looking for cogent criticism of psychiatry, look for another source. Any other source.

Some parents are no doubt religious zealots who would stick to their crazy beliefs no matter how much harm it does.

But many other parents have no desire to be scofflaws. My own parents (Christian Scientists) meticulously followed all laws, including those requiring vaccinations for pets and TB screenings for themselves (teachers). Because the law did not require them to provide any medical care for my siblings and myself, they didn’t provide it.

When parents must choose between their religion and their children’s lives, most state laws weigh in on the side of religion. That’s wrong. As a society, we should make sure our laws work to protect children.

There’s far too many people in the world today, it would seem that idiots like this should be encouraged to kill off their children to leave more space for the smarter people.

I am in agreement with Matthew Cline. Scientology sets itself up in complete opposition to psychiatry, as it claims to have the answers to cure all ailments, both physical and mental via its Clearing programs. As do other cults who insist on ‘healing’ via non medical means in order to set themselves apart from the mainstream. While we could argue the complexities of choice or otherwise of those who find themselves under the mind control of these fundamentalist religious organisations, children are of course most vulnerable, and require additional state protection. These rights to be spared from harm at the hands of abusive or delusional carers should extend into the religious sphere. There are too many examples worldwide of children suffering and dying unecessarily due to religious zealotry.

Many years ago(~30) a young boy with severe leg injuries was refused operation by his Jehovah’s Witness parents as blood transfusion and products were essential, they would only consent to bilateral amputation.
He was made “a Ward Of the State” and operated on with success.
His parents never returned to the hospital.
There was much distress in the hospital.
I guiltily, felt pleased that we had saved his life……. TWICE.

A charity is an organization that provides some net benefit to a community, as decided by the people involved. Religious organizations are regarded a sub-category of charitable organizations, for tax purposes in the US. Religious and non-religious non-profits must abide by the same rules to maintain their charitable status.

By replacing the word “religion” with “charity” in some contexts we may find ourselves in a better position to limit the excesses of the more toxic groups.

Harbo — though the outcome in the story was different, your story reminds me of the Babylon 5 episode “Believers”. An alien family comes to Babylon 5, seeking the help of esteemed xenobiologist and physician Stephen Franklin. They have already exhausted the resources of their own race and many others, looking for someone who will treat the deadly condition their son has. Dr Franklin is delighted when he makes the diagnosis — it’s something that is easily treatable with a fairly minor surgery — but a bit puzzled that none of the previous physicians noticed. Then the family explains the real problem — their religion forbids cutting of the body, because they believe this causes the soul to escape. They believe their son will die if he receives the operation. Dr Franklin is in a dilemma; he tries a few other things, but with no real hope of success — his real goal is to buy time to convince the parents to let him work. I won’t spoil the ending, but it doesn’t provide any easy answers, because sometimes in life there aren’t any, and victories in these cases can sometimes become quite hollow.

kind of odd that they require state monitoring for religious opting out of school (yearly testing), but are only now contemplating medical monitoring of children whose parents opt out of medical treatment for religious reasons. strange priorities.

You also have to keep in mind that one of the cities in Oregon (the one with the huge renaissance fair, can’t remember the name) had the lowest vaccination rate in the country. All those parents used the religious opt out reason. Some kid had measles last week in oregon.

@46 and 47

Ashland, OR. also has a small ski resort. A lot of people take their kids there. That little town gets a lot of outside traffic which exposes the local kids and the visitors to potential diseases. That town is an accident waiting to happen.

Believe what you want about psychiatry, it and meds kept me from putting a .45 though my head.

Or to paraphrase Garret Morris:

Psychopharmacology been very very good for me.

@mu – I read about that ruling this morning. It was interesting that the justices were divided exactly across gender lines (except for Elena Kagan recusing herself), with Sotomayer and Ginsburg basically repeating the “we’re not anti-vaccine, we just want safe vaccines” screed in their minority dissent. I’m sure that the AoA mommy warriors will be quoting them. As a woman who is very interested in keeping my own and others’ children healthy, I’m disappointed in the women of SCOTUS.

Thanks for the link to the news story. Since the explanation in the TV story was brief, I looked up the text of the judgment, which I suspect we’ll be hearing about for some time. (The grammarians should have fun reading this one.)

Basically, the Supreme Court decided that a claim of a vaccine design defect is not a basis for overriding or bypassing the process set up in the NCVIA. That’s a little more limited than the news story makes it sound.

Hannah Bruesewitz’s parents had sued in the NVIC,

claiming that Hannah became disabled after receiving a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine manufactured by Lederle Laboratories (now owned by respondent Wyeth). After that court denied their claim, they elected to reject the unfavorable judgment and filed suit in Pennsylvania state court, alleging, inter alia, that the defective design of Lederle’s DTP vaccine caused Hannah’s disabilities, and that Lederle was subject to strict liability and liability for negligent design under Pennsylvania common law.

The Federal District Court had held that the Pennsylvania design-defect law was preempted by the NCVIA which states

“[n]o vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side-effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings”

The Supreme Court basically upheld this judgment, noting

The NCVIA preempts all design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers brought by plaintiffs seeking compensation for injury or death caused by a vaccine’s side effects.

And, the Supreme Court also stated that

The Act’s structural quid pro quo also leads to the same conclusion. The vaccine manufacturers fund an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries in exchange for avoiding costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict. Taxing their product to fund the compensation program, while leaving their liability for design defect virtually unaltered, would hardly coax them back into the market. Provided that there was proper manufacture and warning, any remaining side effects, including those resulting from design defects, are deemed to have been unavoidable. State-law design-defect claims are therefore preempted.

And, the ruling also points out that

Design defects, in contrast, do not merit a single mention in the NCVIA or the FDA’s regulations. Indeed, the FDA has never even spelled out in regulations the criteria it uses to decide whether a vaccine is safe and effective for its intended use. And the decision is surely not an easy one. Drug manufacturers often could trade a little less efficacy for a little more safety, but the safest design is not always the best one. Striking the right balance between safety and efficacy is especially difficult with respect to vaccines, which affect public as well as individual health. Yet the Act, which in every other respect micromanages manufacturers, is silent on how to evaluate competing designs.

And, they note that this

silence regarding design-defect liability was not inadvertent. It instead reflects a sensible choice to leave complex epidemiological judgments about vaccine design to the FDA and the National Vaccine Program rather than juries.

“In the main Scientology is doubtlessly bunk but isn’t their position on psychiatry more scientific than not? I can’t recall seeing any good scientific evidence supporting psychiatry – or at least the “talking cure” brand.”

Even if it’s given that psychiatry is bunk, their method of claiming it bunk is not scientific. And if it were, just because it is more like science, doesn’t make it right, you’d have to show why it’s correct.

Two ways in which you’ve managed to mix up memes to draw a conclusion.

the safest design is not always the best one

That is a subtlety that will go right over the head of the antivaxxers.

Ashland Oregon has the lowest vaccination rates in the US? Hmm…

I remember hearing David Miscavige say that the Ashland Springs Hotel has The Way to Happiness instead of the Bible in all the nightstands. And I’ve read that Scientology has poured a ridiculous amount of money into renovating the old hotel.

The Pacific Northwest seems very important to the cult. Probably because of Bastyr and the National College of Natural Medicine.

Ashland OR does indeed have the lowest vaccination rate in the US. They also have a lot of chem-trail true believers, a lot of followers of David Icke, and a lot of people who believe that all human suffering can be cured by changing to a 13 month calendar. It’s… a special place.

Oregon is kind of crunchy-liberal-green, with a heavy slant towards altie modalities, but it also has a lot of people who are definitely not down with playing with kids’ lives. I’d bet the bill will pass, albeit perhaps by a narrow margin. I certainly hope it does.

As I have mentioned before, it seems to me that absolute rejection of conventional medicine is mainly a characteristic of “cults”- groups that are of recent origin and only limited numbers and range. By comparison, when a group is successful enough to be considered as a multigenerational tradition, even extreme examples like the Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses develop at least SOME accomodation of modern medical care. This can easily be regarded as a “natural selection” process: Groups that don’t develop in that direction either die out or remain minor. I think this poses a dilemma when it comes to legal intervention: In the “long view”, it should not be necessary, however desirable it might be to deal with immediate humanitarian needs. However, once “outsiders” do intervene, it may actually slow down the process of evolving toward moderation.

Yes, the best solution WOULD be to educate the parents. However, if they’re at the point where their dying child is going to die because they believe so wholeheartedly in the Power of Prayer, I think they’re well past the point of being pursuaded of alternatives.

I applaud Oregon’s step forward here.

Grammar Nazis Enthusiasts: I was once as you are now. A veritable tsunami of grammatical SIWOTI compulsion. But there is help. These books may save friendships, marriages, jobs, commenting privileges and if nothing else, will probably make you laugh out loud whilst reading them on the subway. Comment correcting my use of “whilst” in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . .

This is GREAT news. This battle has been waged for hundreds of years in Europe and America. It’s actually the Christian Science organization that has fought to keep this madness intact quite successfully over the last 50 years or so. I would expect them to push hard against this legislation.

An eye opening book on this topic is When Prayer Fails.

Thanks for mentioning that book. I see my library has it so I will go pick it up soon. Looks like an interesting read.

Off topic here but are you the Nate Phelps that is the son of Fred Phelps?

@45: Your story reminds me of the Babylon 5 episode “Believers”. Then the family explains the real problem — their religion forbids cutting of the body, because they believe this causes the soul to escape. They believe their son will die if he receives the operation. Dr Franklin is in a dilemma; he tries a few other things, but with no real hope of success — his real goal is to buy time to convince the parents to let him work. I won’t spoil the ending, but it doesn’t provide any easy answers, because sometimes in life there aren’t any, and victories in these cases can sometimes become quite hollow.

With all due respect, the ending of that episode only shows how easy the answers to such cases really are. Some parents easily choose to snuff out their childrens’ lives because of wacky primitive supernaturalisms, marking them as unfit parents who ought to be locked up forever and have any surviving children removed from them permanently.

(SPOILERS FOR A 16-YEAR-OLD TV SHOW: Franklin performs the surgery, saving the kid, but the parents now see him as a soulless abomination because OMG HIS SKIN WAS CUT and so they kill their own child. And there’s some ridiculous message about “tolerance” that fell totally flat. Hopefully their species wound up on the wrong end of a Shadow death-cloud.)

I think you misunderstood the episode if you think it said the answer is easy. Actually, I think you misunderstood what the question was. The question of how to correct the child’s problem was easy. The question of how to deal with the parents’ religious objection was not easy — and never is. Now, in a realistic situation in America, the worst you’re likely to get is the parents objecting strenuously to the care forced on their child by the state but then taking the child back afterward. But it’s not all good when that happens. And taking away their children isn’t all good either. In fact, it’s deeply traumatic for the other children. Could it save their lives? Absolutely. Could it ruin them? Yes, unfortunately it could. When children are taken away from religiously neglectful parents, it’s not really a good outcome. You hope that it is at least a less bad outcome, though.

The episode did not say the answer is easy–because the episode was wrong.

In real life when parents are hellbent on sacrificing their child to some voodoo idol they worship the answer is most assuredly easy. It may not be easy to ACHIEVE or to LIVE WITH, logistically and emotionally / family-dynamically, but everybody knows the right answer.

I loved B5 and I’m a pretty liberal guy, but some of Straczynski’s smug liberal pretensions bugged even me. In another episode with a subplot about an intergalactic religious expo, every other species had ONE religion each, but the humans got equal representation for about 200 different clergy members representing as many human religions… and the first one mentioned was an atheist, and the second was a rabbi! Nothing in the series so badly shattered the willing suspension of disbelief.

@64 We should never give mental illness a pass when it sails under the guise of religion. Jonestown is a good example of where that leads. I am sick and tired of the way religion is priveledged in our society. Churches should be treated not be treated any differently than say a vintage car club.

Militant Agnostic – hell yes! I’m seriously depressed (as in, have had psychotic episodes and need fairly constant care), and there’s a reason I don’t have children or pets. I’m not fit to care for them. Is this upsetting sometimes? Yes. Would I go ahead and have them anyway? No. If I claimed god told me what I did was OK, and I neglected hypothetical dependants, would I deserve to be committed and my kids sent off to family members? Yes.

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