Sunday, September 13, 2009

Law & Ordered

A few nights ago, I caught the end of a Law & Order re-run.  The episode presented the story of parents who "let" their child die by turning to the healing powers of prayer and eschewing intervention by doctors.  I remember watching this episode when it first came out.  I was a teenager, somewhat politically aware, and I knew that this reflected real-life stories (it was "ripped from the headlines", as Law & Order used to say), and I was pretty much horrified by the thought of parents who would let their children die.  I knew that adults had the right to refuse treatment, but I agreed with the show's protagonists that medical treatment should be forced upon children against their parent's wishes or religious beliefs (in a self-righteous twist, one of the attorneys is horrified to learn that the child asked for a doctor, but the parents would not give her one... oh those monsters).

Of course in real life, the monsters aren't so clearly defined.  In Manitoba, where they have a law that forces children and teenagers to submit to medical treatment, we saw the case of a 15-year old girl refusing a blood transfusion (she's a Jehovah's Witness), and the government forcing it on her.  So the province wasn't saving a child from her crazy religious parents (a la Law & Order), they were saving a teenager from her crazy religious self.

The case went to the Supreme Court; they said the law was constitutional, and upheld it 6 - 1.  Thank God for sanity... well, not your God, but someone's.

Okay, maybe that's not fair.  The Supreme Court doesn't judge the merits of the law; they just measure it against the Charter of Rights, and, thankfully, there's a lot more leeway when it comes to abridging a minor's freedom.  Anyway, I can't come out really strongly against this law; I can see the merits; I can also see the potential for abuse, and that is what we should be worried about.

In the episode of Law & Order, the District Attorneys begin judging the merits and depth of the parent's faith.  A crisis of faith, apparently, turns liberty into criminal activity.  If you're not Job, your beliefs are nothing.  Later in the episode, a doctor begins judging the efficacy of prayer.  So, I guess, even if you are Job, government "experts" can weigh in on the validity of your religion.  Who knew C. Everett Coop was a theologian?  (One should never forgo a C. Everett Coop reference.)

I'm not trying to conflate real life with TV, but the notion that we, the mere public, cannot be trusted to make decisions, and that we need some technocratic government official to decide what is best for us, is real life, and it is quite worrying.  We have seen, in North America, court decisions that force children into public schools because the judge does not like their religion; we have seen tribunal decisions that force pastors to publicly disavow their faith; we have seen a sheriff sent to the home of a birthing mother (at the direction of a doctor), to arrest her; we have seen courts force that mother into risky interventionist measures; we have seen schools force children to take mind-altering drugs; now, we have seen the Supreme Court of Canada allow the Manitoba legislature to negate the religious beliefs of a teenager and her parents.

...but that was just a TV show; I'm sure everything will be fine for you and me.

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