There are so many stories out there right now concerning church-state relations. This story from GetReligion speaks of the entanglement of law and religion in the matter of faith healing when children die. In the past, other couples have been convicted of reckless homicide for not seeking the aid of a doctor.
While I certainly thank God for antibiotics and make use of doctors and nurses (believing that God is actually more glorified in working through ordinary means), I cannot absolutely condemn all occurrences of “faith healing.” Part of this admission is based on the simple fact that I do not know how much the parents knew about the disease of the child or the ease of access to the remedy. For instance, I know of a family whose daughter had migraines. They prayed for her, but she died. They had no idea they should have been seeking advanced medical help.
In the case mentioned in the story above, there was most likely a good deal of knowledge about the child’s condition, and the parents should have gotten help for the child. However, we are treading on very dangerous grounds when that determination is given over to a government official. Not only is this a potential overstep into the private lives of citizens by the government; it may also be a violation of the 1st Amendment of the constitution–establishing religious doctrine. Can the government tell a citizen it is wrong for him to live by a faith conviction? What if the government decides that it endangers the life (psychologically–as in Doe v. Bolton) of a 15 year-old to have a baby? The government might mandate abortions in such a case. Should parents who dissent for religious reasons be subject to penalty under law for their refusal? Is medical treatment an obligation, a duty, a right, or a privilege? Ought citizens to be forced into medical treatment? Which treatments are mandatory?
There are so many knotty issues concerning church and state. I certainly believe these parents should have had their daughter treated (both for theological and practical reasons). Their case, however, is one of individual liberty and the role of church and state. We can clearly see that minors deserve some protections. We will not ever be comfortable with decisions others make for their children; however, we should also be willing to recognize a fundamental duty of parents to be the primary decision makers for their children.