Blurring the Lines – Love or Abuse?

At what point should a government be able to over-ride parental rights and concern for children?

This was an underlying question to emerge from a story we watched on TV recently and that has been making news in Perth.

Last Sunday night we watched the ‘Sunday Night’ show as it told of a father and mother who have taken their 10 year old daughter out of Australia and back to her mothers home country to receive natural treatment for her liver cancer.

The story in brief is that during consultation with Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth the parents had been told that the best option for their daughter was chemotherapy, which gave her a 30% chance of life. (On the TV interview they increased this to a 50-60% chance…) However as parents they decided this was not a great option and wished to treat their daughter with natural remedies from El Salvador.

In response the hospital actually took legal action to force the family to have the daughter treated with chemo. If I remember the story correctly, it was on the night before the court verdict was due to be handed down that the mother and daughter fled the country and headed overseas to try and implement their own treatment methods.

A ‘complicating’ factor is that the family are Christians and see that God plays a part in whatever outcome occurs. Some would see this as another example of faith gone mad and put them in the wacko category. Phrases like ‘God gives and God takes away’ are true, but need to be used cautiously and with some caveats on television, especially when the intention of the story is to make you look foolish.

What made this story more interesting personally was that I watched it with the brother of the man involved – uncle to the little girl – and was privy to some inside information that was not shown on TV. The Sunday Night show chose a very definite ‘angle’ – that of parental neglect/stupidity and went after this man hard. (I am not mentioning the names of those concerned here to try and dodge the google searches). .

Perhaps the most serious issue arising from the story is that of ‘who decides what is best for my child?’

In this case the ‘state’ was almost certainly going to subject a young girl to a treatment of chemotherapy despite it having a very poor chance of success and despite it being against the express wishes of the parents and the girl herself. While it may be the best we have on offer, a 30% chance of success would probably see me asking ‘what else is out there?’ and should I pursue it.

But I may not have permission to do that.

The story showed the parents shunting their daughter off to a dangerous ‘third world country’ and using mud and herbal tea as remedies. It did everything it could to portray them as gullible, faith blinded people who were both naive and fatalistic. It was convincing and I’d have to say that agreeing to go on TV certainly did them no favours.

Regardless of the methods used and the failure or success of them, the question that stuck with me was ‘where does my parental authority cease to exist?’

I know we have child protection workers in our country who look out for children who are in genuine danger and being abused, but what about when the waters become murky and it is not abuse that drives parents to non conformist practices, but love?

I can’t say I was inspired by watching them administer the natural remedies, but then I have lived my whole life in a scientifically focused western world that has little time for alternative medicines. It’s a perspective that is strong and hard to sway away from, but what if this is actually the answer, or what if God chooses to heal?

As we finished watching the segment you literally had to scrape back the legal debates and questions over medical expediency and see a 10 year old girl who is sick and who needs help.

We prayed for her.

It might be simplistic too, but I happen to believe it is probably her best shot.

Did you see the show? If so what are your thoughts?

8 thoughts on “Blurring the Lines – Love or Abuse?

  1. personally, i favour alternative medicine options and thought they were courageous for making the decision they did

    i also thought the media were their usual pathetic selves, portraying people of faith as simpletons

  2. While I understand the family’s desire to seek their own way I find it difficult to accept anyone passing up the chance of a cure through chemotherapy, which while it has nasty side effects, at least has evidence of several decades of successful reduction or elimination of cancer in humans.

    ALternative medicines cannot make that claim and anecdotal evidence of ‘cures’ from alternative medicines are limited (and often these ‘cures’ occured while the patient was also receiving chemo – with the alt-med getting the credit by the family).

    I think an adult can honestly make this decision for themselves, but making it for a child smacks of ‘ownership’ rather than parental responsibility. Responsibility requires a person to weigh the advice of the doctors honestly against their ‘belief’ or faith in alternative medicine – they are not equal in success or efficacy.

    I deliberately did NOT watch the media broadcasts on this issue as I thought it would be a typical beat-up of either the parents or the health system and neither approach is productive.

  3. Having just recently gone through this, and not knowing anything of this case, I can only give you our perspective. Our daughter was diagnosed in Dec 06 with liver cancer. She was 2 1/2 years old and Stage IV. They told us that she had a 25% chance of survival at diagnosis. Thankfully God does not work in the percentages! Being here in the States, we knew the best option for her was the chemo route. While struggling with the prognosis, we saw God’s hand in moving us across the country to Atlanta, where we had one of the best pediatric hospitals in the country. We also had one of the best liver surgeons in the world. Obviously I dont know all the details of the case in Oz, but I do know it is hard to judge motives from the outside on what we as parents are faced with. We are forced to make the choice which could ultimately deteremine if our child lives or dies. We truly believe our daughter was healed by God, by the use of medicine. I wish I could tell you all of the miracle and amazing things we saw during this trial, but there isn’t room here. Our daughter had 6 rounds of chemo, a full liver transplant and has lost some hearing…but she is now 2+ years cancer free and living a “normal” life. Should the Govt madate treatment? No, but I also think the parents should be given all options and make their decision based on the facts and their faith. This will be one of the biggest decisions they will ever make. I too will pray for this girl and her family.


  4. Why do people feel the need to be healed only by the mystical or miraculous for those conditions that have an internal cause? If the child had a broken arm I am sure that they would have taken her to a doctor to have it set.

    Even if you are a person of faith, why must the healing come without medical intervention? There is a modern-day parable that floats around the internet about a man during a flood. First he hears a radio report warning people to evacuate. “Ah, but I have faith that God will save me” he says.

    As the waters rise a man in a boat comes by – “hope in, I’ll save you” he calls. The man replies “Ah, but I have faith that God will save me”. The waters rise further and he climbs onto his roof where a helicopter spots him and hovers, lowering a rescuer who extends his arm. “No” says the man, “I have faith that God will save me”.

    The flood rises and the man drowns and before God he asks why with his great faith God did not save him.

    God replies “I sent you a radio message, a man in a canoe and a helicpoter – what more was I to do?”

    A cure does not have to be a miracle surely – can’t it be medicine also?

  5. I think most people of faith would do that Grendel, but I am guessing some also experience the presence of God in miraculous ways over and above medical intervention.

    I know Gossy’s story would be an example of that.

  6. That’s a good parable Grendel, and I agree with Hamo that some experience God’s presence in ways “over and above” medical intervention.

    What bothers me is when people like this forsake their best scientifically proven chance of a cure for some unproven thing on the other side of the world. Adding complementary therapies to standard medical treatment is fine, but when they forgo it I have concerns.

    Having said that, as parents it’s their right to make decisions on behalf of their children (no matter how stupid) so I’m not sure whether or not I agree with the legal action taken against them…

    …and to put in in perspective, there’s many sorts of cancer where 30% chance of cure is actually pretty good odds – I don’t regard 30% as being horrendously bad.

  7. Neither do I – and I also heard 50-60% bandied around as odds also. From what my colleagues tell my of cancer however the longer she stays away from chemo the faster the odds of a successful treatment fall.

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