How Family Guy tackled a very real legal issue
I watched the most recent episode of Family Guy last night and as well as being very funny it raised the issue of Christian Scientists and other denominations who don’t believe in many forms of modern medicine. I’ve got to say right off the bat that I’m not religious, I’m not trying to advocate any sort of religious viewpoint, I’m just trying to write objectively.
When I was studying law I read a few cases on Jehovah’s witnesses who refused surgery and blood transfusions because it went against their religious beliefs and inevitably, they all died when they could have possibly been saved. One particular case involved a man who stabbed a female Jehovah’s witness. The woman then died as she refused life-saving treatment. The defendant in the case argued that he shouldn’t be convicted of murder. He stated that his actions would not have led to death if not for the decision to withhold medical treatment.This argument was flatly rejected by the UK Courts, and rightly so.
Nobody should get off with murder simply because they feel the religious beliefs of a certain individual are crazy and irresponsible. It may be that the views of the individual are irresponsible but it comes down to simple common sense that is dressed up in a long-standing principle of law, the ‘thin skull’ principle. When you choose to attack someone, you take the risk that they may have, for example, a thin skull or in this case a religious belief that prevents them from surviving and that your attack will kill them even though it wouldn’t kill the average man. You will be punished for the murder irregardless. Ignorance is not a defence.
What is however very tragic is that ignorance is a defence in many societies when it comes to parents and their children. If you are a Christian Scientist or a Scientologist or a Jehovah’s witness and you make medical decisions on behalf of your children that are deemed by contemporary society to be irresponsible should you be punished?
For me what it comes down to is that every citizen is a citizen of the state, with rights that ought to be protected by the state. An adult has the right to choose whether or not they refuse treatment, a child does not have the mental capacity to do so yet. People in this vulnerable position need the state to step in and make the right decision for them. In reality, often parents will not be found culpable by the courts and the state, in the form of the legal system, will have failed to step in after the death of a child. This is a double failure for the state who should have first stepped in, in the form of child services, when the medical treatment was refused and again to punish the parents.
Family Guy made an excellent argument. In the episode a family refused to have their child treated for cancer as they planned to pray the disease away, Lois Griffin responded with the following:
“I know you don’t believe in modern medicine, but you do believe in the power of prayer. And through the years when there was disease or infection people of good faith would pray to God for a cure. Well then isn’t it possible that penicillin, vaccines and antibiotics are all actually answered prayers? And isn’t it possible that the amazing men and woman of medicine who brought about these miracles could be the instruments of God’s answers to our prayers? It’s wrong for you to ignore what very well could be the Lord’s will, what’s the point of praying to God if you’re just going to wipe your butt with his answers?”
We should all embrace Lois Griffin’s message. Thanks Seth MacFarlane.