Should We be Able to Refuse Health Treatment for Others Due to our Religion?: Editorial

Photo Source:

Photo Source:

Chloe Hurd, Writer

As Americans, some of our core beliefs and doings are based on religion, significantly affecting how we see life. However, when does this go too far? Mental health has been an increasingly important topic in the last couple of years as many are breaking down the stigma that prevents them from receiving care. Recently, we have seen more and more cases of refusal of medical care  based on religion. Usually, this would be fine if it was minor overall. Still, it poses a real ethical issue when people hurt others or themselves. 


What is the Law?

While there is no direct law to reference when refusing medical treatment, we all have the right to refuse on any grounds. If you, as a patient, are considered healthy and sound of mind, you can refuse treatment because of your belief. Many religious groups have standards regarding care, but when the hospital considers them emergencies, these protocols are set in place by the hospital to save said patients’ lives.


 In other non-emergency cases, a doctor is not allowed to administer care if the patient refuses, even if the doctor disagrees with the patient. While this may seem fine on its own, this type of refusal becomes dangerous for adult family members and children who cannot consent themselves. Some members of the Faith Religious Group do not take their children to hospitals for fear of forced medical treatment, and unsurprisingly their mortality rate is high. Things like Measles and infant death are common among these groups who believe God is the only thing to heal their children. When you put this type of treatment into the context of mentally disabled or struggling adults, the situation becomes even more horrific. 


In the case of the children…

The age-old debate on vaccines is something that still has a deep hold on Americans and their decisions when it comes to children. While some may claim there is medical information proving the uselessness of vaccines, a large portion of the refusal comes from religious parents. In schools today,“Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren have religious or conscientious exemptions from immunizations. Such exemptions have led to personal medical risk, decreases in herd immunity, and outbreaks of preventable disease” (National Library of Medicine). 


While these parents can prevent their child from getting a vaccine, it is hard to determine whether the overall good of the people is worth that choice. Vaccine mandates serve as a checkpoint to these views, blocking inevitable and often necessary interactions we can have today. For example, the Covid vaccine is often required for employees or those who want to participate in group activities.


While vaccine refusal for children is one thing, refusing general or even lifesaving care can negatively affect a child’s development and overall life. Take Mariah Walton, who has been permanently disabled, and her lungs destroyed by illness. Her only option for treatment is a whole heart and lung transplant, which is both hard to achieve and extremely risky. 


The worst part? This could have all been prevented by a simple surgery at birth; even one in early childhood could have changed the outcome of her entire life. Her parents believe in faith-based healing, praying over her in the hope that her illness will be cured. The only thing that got Mariah’s actual treatment was her escape. 


After that, she had no birth certificate or social security number. Her parent’s choice and faith ultimately destroyed Mariah’s life. However, she will not be left with any healing because Idaho protects faith-based healing, even when it comes to manslaughter charges. The recklessness of this community is reflected in their local cemetery, where you can see countless child graves, most of which result from the refusal of medical care. “A task force set up by the Idaho governor estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was ten times that of Idaho as a whole.” (The Guardian). 


While faith-based healing does not always lead to a lesser quality of life, it’s been known to leave lasting and damaging mental scars on those that undergo it. Brian Hoyt, who also attended the same church as Mariah, lost his faith after having a baby die in his arms while people prayed around him. He was told the baby’s death resulted from his lack of faith. Later in life, around the age of 12, he injured himself in a wrestling accident, shattering two of his leg bones. For weeks his parents tried the faith-based healing route, rubbing rancid oil on his legs and praying over him, eventually forcing Brian to walk. When this did not work, his family attacked him, “I would wake up to my step-dad, my uncles, and the other elders of the church kicking me and beating me, calling me a f*g, because I didn’t have enough faith to let God come in and heal me, while my mom and my aunts were sitting there watching. And that’s called faith healing,” Brian says (The Guardian). 


These parents not only refused treatment but actively rejected modern medicine all for the sake of faith. No child, especially one so young, should be subjected to these mental scars, especially if they come from a place of blind faith and ignorance. 


In the case of adults…

Many religions have faith-based reasons for refusing medical care; for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions. This is legal because adults who care for themselves and those who are “sound of mind” are protected and allowed to refuse treatment. Some even believe that God wants them to suffer, which is where DNRs (Do Not Rececitates) originate. Everyone has the right, but what happens to those who cannot consent? Those who fall into the category of “not sound of mind”?


Dena Schlosser, a mother who had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had thrived on antipsychotic medications in years prior to marrying her husband. Previously suffering brain damage as a child, Dena received treatment and could live a stable, everyday life. After her husband John lost his job, the two moved to Texas to be closer to the fundamentalist church. At that point, the two were both heavily invested in the teachings, which forbade the use of said antipsychotic medications. John took Dena off said medication, causing her bipolar symptoms to spike and her depression to worsen. After the birth of their daughter, Dena suffered from past and present mental scars, which drove her deeper into her own mental illness. Neighbors reported seeing her outside in a trance, screaming about the end of times or religious ramblings. Eventually, she suffered an episode in which she was convinced that the world was ending, cutting her daughter’s arms off and trying to sever her own. Police found her after she calmly called 911 to alert them to the situation. 


This could have been prevented if Dena hadn’t been taken off the medication she thrived on for years. Even in court, her pastor had known, “She had been taking antipsychotic drugs for several years prior to Margaret’s death. Davidson thought that mental illness was demonic, and this belief partly led Schlosser’s husband to not buy her medication regularly. Under oath, Davidson testified that in his view, all mental illness is demonic at the bottom.” ( By taking her off these medications, Dena was not only put in danger to herself, but she became a danger to others. Before the incident, she had gotten a degree, worked, and enjoyed life. The old view that all mental illness is because of the influence of demons or the devil is highly harmful, especially when faith goes so far as to cause harm. 


In Closing

Faith brings communities together, teaches valuable lessons and morals, and lets us evaluate ourselves and our existence. My overall goal with this article was not to denounce one religion, and while many of the cases cover different sanctions of Christianity, I am not anti-Christian or Catholic. We need to acknowledge both the light and dark sides of faith, and in the end, we need to focus on the overall good of humanity.