Wednesday, December 5, 2007

14-Year-Old Jehovah's Witness Dies

Dennis Lindberg, suffering from leukemia at the age of 14, was given a crucial decision to make: receive a blood transfusion, or face near-certain death. For most of us, this would be a pretty easy choice - take the blood. But Dennis was a Jehovah's Witness, and for the majority of that religion's members, blood is a holy substance that is not to be transferred or taken in (for the scriptural support of this doctrine, read Wikipedia's take).

Let me state clearly that I am proud to live in a country where we afford people the religious freedom to make such decisions. And I don't mean that in some kind of Malthusian sense of, "Let the crazy people kill themselves." Nothing like that. Rather, beliefs should never be forced on anyone, or forcibly removed - it should be the right and responsibility of each individual to hear the arguments and make his own decision. As the Qur'an says, there should be no compulsion in religion.

The tougher question is, do we draw the line anywhere? What do we do when such a decision will lead to one's death, as in this case? Or when family members make the decision for children who are too young or adults who are unable to decide for themselves? It's a tricky situation, where religious freedom bumps up against commonly-shared, secular morals. We would all agree that if a religion demands child sacrifice, we should step in and save the children.

Whatever the answer, Dennis was 14, and probably old enough to understand the factors involved. The matter was brought before a judge, who said, "I don’t believe Dennis’ decision is the result of any coercion. He is mature and understands the consequences of his decision... I don’t think Dennis is trying to commit suicide. This isn’t something Dennis just came upon, and he believes with the transfusion he would be unclean and unworthy." A few hours after the decision was made to allow Dennis to refuse the transfusion, he died.

Read the original article at msnbc.


Michael said...

Hard to agree with the judge, given that the kid was acting on a belief that has no supporting evidence. If the kid had said "Santa Claus says a blood transfusion is wrong," would the judge have said the same?

Remarkable how the right name can change perceptions and lend credence to something that has no basis in reality.

Filling people's heads with beliefs that can clearly lead to their death is effectively murder in my books.

I'm agnostic. Yes, us agnostics do exist. Until science can show how matter can give rise to consciousness, I'll remain agnostic. Einstein said science will NEVER explain conscious experience. If you can reduce consciousness to a mechanism, then all that exists is that mechanism, and there is no such phenomenon as consciousness.

Ross said...

I agree with you on the part about the judge. Unfortunately, our society gives such weight to arbitrary beliefs that they can trump medical science and simple logic.

Interesting what you say about consciousness. I don't recall Einstein ever saying science would never explain it - do you have a quote to that effect? I'm sure it is a very complicated problem to solve, but I imagine that in time we will. Much great headway is being made even now. What IS clear is that consciousness is tied to the functioning of the brain, even if the mechanism is beyond our current understanding.