Friday, August 14, 2009

Parental Rights and Wrongs

What limits, if any, must be placed on a parent’s “right” to raise a child? I was in Portland, OR a couple of weeks ago working on my Holy Rascals film project. The local paper was abuzz with a jury’s verdict regarding Carl and Raylene Worthington who chose to heal their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, spirituality rather than medically. Ava died. Deadlocked for days, the jury finally acquitted the couple of all manslaughter charges, and found Carl Worthington guilty of a misdemeanor.

I don’t want to argue the verdict. I want to explore the idea behind it. Are parents allowed to suffer their children to bear the burden of the parent’s faith? Ava died not because of what she believed, but because of what her parents’ believed. Do parents have the right to do this?

And what about instilling your beliefs in your child as they mature? I taught my son that he is a Jew, and along with that identity comes serious obligations. He is a member of a tribe that is often hated and hunted. He is often associated with Israeli policies with which he has no connection and shares no love. Had I not told him that he was a Jew, would any of this be true?

What about parents who instill in their children the notion of Original Sin? My son doesn’t suffer from this particular spiritual disease, and has no need of the Cure: belief in Jesus as Christ. Are those who infect their children with sin doing the right thing? Are those who tell their children there is no such thing at fault?

I know children who were told from early on that the earth is only ten thousand years old and that humans coexisted with and even road on the backs of dinosaurs. Is this not a form of child abuse? Are these kids not handicapped in a world that is rooted in what former President George W. Bush dismissively called the “reality based community”? And if it is, it is any less insane than teaching your child that wrong beliefs (i.e. beliefs that mom and dad call wrong) send you to hell? Or that God gave a strip of land to the Jews and they have a right to divest it of those who lived in it for centuries?

Do parents’ have the right to teach children whatever they please? Does the child have no right to truth? If, when it comes to the physical welfare of a child, the government is apt to intervene and at least try to hold parents responsible for their child’s welfare, why not do so when it is the child’s intellectual welfare is at state as well?

Please share your thoughts on this.


Patti said...

"Does the child have no right to truth?" I think we all agree that truth is illusive and chameleon like.

I taught my children all that stuff you mentioned from Christianity's top ten insanity list. They saw it then as crazy as I see it now. Currently, we laugh about it, I apologize and am open about how my search for answers has lead us all down some unholy paths. There is recovery and resiliency.

But not so much for Ava. But do parents have a right to their truth...yes, unfortunately.

Maggid said...

I hope you actually find answers to this one - people have been asking about this as long as I remember.

I like that you are brave enough to start (or offer) the discussion.


Judy said...

The most important thing we can do teach our children is to question and to respect their questions. Parents pass on their beliefs to their children - actively and passively. At the same time children need to be encouraged to learn all that they can and then make their own choices.

Karen said...

This is a deeply profound topic -- one I've struggled with as I raise two independent daughters.

Do parents’ have the right to teach children whatever they please? To a certain degree, it's our obligation to teach our children. But I think it's dangerous to have the "right" to teach "whatever we please." Teaching children physical or emotional abuse and neglect is simply WRONG. There are so many other things that are just completely WRONG to teach children. But who is to determine what is right and what is wrong to teach children?

You ask "Does the child have no right to truth?" I answer: Whose truth? Yours? Mine? The governor who has slept around on his/her spouse? The president who calls for an unnecessary war? The priest who sexually abuses children? The minister who believes you're going to hell if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior? The quiet Muslim woman in head-to-toe burka? Everyone has their own personal truths, and they live accordingly. They bring children into the world based on their personal truths. Thus, their children are raised with these truths -- good or bad, it's unavoidable.

About letting the government hold parents responsible for their child’s intellectual welfare -- what does this mean? And does intellect have anything to do with our belief systems? I know some pretty intelligent people whose belief systems are completely out of whack with mine. In general, I say NO to the government being involved with this anyway. There's not enough purity of intention with politicians to make sure it's done "right!"

If we bring children into this world, we have an obligation to make sure they make it to the age of 18 as happy, compassionate, healthy, independent-minded people. Once they are 18, we have to be willing to let them go to make their own decisions, no matter how similar or divergent they are to our own. The Worthington's failed this obligation by choosing their own beliefs over the wellbeing of their daughter.

One offshoot of this -- what do we do when children reach an age to voice their own opinions about their health care (especially those who experience lethal diseases). Do we force them into healing modalities that they don't want to endure (chemo, for instance) because it is for their own good; or do we allow them to have a strong voice in what they are willing to endure?

Unknown said...

I agree with Judy in terms of what I see as our duties as parents to teach children how to learn, so they can go out as adults who lead fulfilling, honorable lives.

When we start talking about rights, I'm a bit uncomfortable because it infers to me that the government needs to start getting involved in enforcing them.

Do we really want the government concerning themselves about a child's intellectual welfare? I'm skeptical enough about public schools abilities to do that, let alone deciding whether the parents are doing it or not.

I think the government needs to keep it's concerns with rather gross examples of ignoring the welfare of a child. When we get involved with something like the education of a child, I'm not sure where it would stop.

Jeff said...

Just so my kids don't grow up Yankee fans.

Patrick said...

I'm still struggling with truth every single day of my life. How could I even possibly entertain the notion that I am passing truth on to my children? Would I be better off if my parents gave me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God? Is this even conceivable?

Ava died. That is tragic. People die every day for no good reason. That is tragic. That is life. Had doctors saved her, she may have been hit by a drunk driver a little later on, maybe died of cancer, maybe marry the man of her dreams who later gets killed in some war. Who knows? Life is so full of tragedies and who am I to decide which are acceptable and which are not? Do you not think that the parents are challenging their very basic spiritual assumptions at this point? Is the parents' ascent to truth not as important as the child's? I'm not condoning the parents' decision, but it just seems to me that life needs to make some really bad decisions in order to eventually make some good ones. Just like my own life.

The trouble with truth is that it is never one-sided. We are always dealing in half-truths. Life is nothing if not paradox. We get into trouble when we only focus on one face of it.

Oh yeah, and what Jeff said.

eashtov said...

Shalom All,

Moral relativism is no stranger to the writers of the Bible: "In those days, there was no king; everyone did what was right in there eyes." Judges 17:6 and again at the end of the book, 21:25

Shabbat Shalom to all of us,

Patrick said...

Just a thought. We always bemoan that people don't have the courage to live their faith when the chips are down, or even if the stakes are not very high, for that matter.

I don't think the stakes are any higher than when the life of your own child is on the line. These parents chose their faith over modern, conventional, medical wisdom. Even if I wouldn't have made the same decision, it must have taken a tremendous amount of courage to make the choice they have made.

Being human, I'm sure those suffering the most right now are those same parents, relying on their faith to see them through this tremendous loss.

Can you imagine the internal struggle that they must be dealing with at this time? Is it God's will? Is it my mistake? Could things have been different? Could my daughter still be alive? Did I do everything I could do? Is wanting my daughter to live above all else going against God's will? If you are living a faith-based life, these are giant questions. I think this must be one of the severest trials a parent could be expected to deal with. God help them.

I would have chosen medical intervention. But that speaks of my faith and my personal desires more than anything else.

Peace to all.

eashtov said...

Shalom Patrick,

Bravo and thanks for saying what I wanted to say about this horrific story.


Di said...

This is beyond my thinking capacity right now...but I CAN tell you that I am still scarred by the whole Tooth Fairy thing. Can I sue my parents?

Mano said...

My dad seems to be going to his grave quietly
without saying "I trust you" or asking
"Do you love me"
so I must turn to avinu shebashamayim uvaaretz
our father in the heaven and the earth
the father of all fathers and sons
to hear the words I long to hear


I am playing soccer with my sons in Diamond Bay reserve, Sydney
as my father played cricket with me in Waverly, Johannesburg
as my sons perhaps will play with their sons in San Francisco or Tel Aviv
and I look at them in the fading dusk
wanting them to have the same sweet memories
and I am them and they are me
and we are all fathers and sons endlessly
and the Lord of soccer looks out of my eyes at their me
the Lord of hosts

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