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When A 14-Year-Old Chooses To Die Because Of Religion, Can Anyone Stop Him?


Coldwinterskies
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I thought some of you might be interested in this story of a 14 year old who chose to die because he was indoctrinated into the Jehovah's Witnesses by his aunt (who ended up becoming his legal guardian after a concerned person threatened to call CPS on his parents). It is one of the more detailed accounts I've seen of how these kinds of cases go and how it affects the survivors left behind when the JW view against blood transfusions causes a death: 

http://kuow.org/post/when-14-year-old-chooses-die-because-religion-can-anyone-stop-him

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Elders at the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn pointed to Genesis 9:4, which condemns cannibalism, and Leviticus 17:10, which says, “I will set my face against that soul who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.”

Not that it’s been uniform. Some Witnesses say they would take fractions of blood but not whole blood or specific parts – plasma, platelets, red blood cells or white blood cells. Others accept organ transplants.

Doctors hear mixed messages as well. One pediatrician told me, “Their worst nightmare is that you’ll take them at their word, and you won’t transfuse their baby.”

Mincin assumed Children’s would ignore their wishes. So she was surprised when a hospital social worker told her that Dennis, having just turned 14, could be considered mature enough to make his own decisions.

Years later, Mincin recalled what went through her mind: “I knew I was helping him to actually die. It was awful. But the other option was more horrifying. To abandon Dennis in his strong conviction to uphold Bible principles as we understand them and allow transfusions to be forced upon him, would have killed him in so many other ways.”

Mincin had been a fighter her whole life, often picking up the pieces for her family. She saw the sad irony of her current situation: She had rescued her nephew, and here she was, now fighting for him to be allowed to die
....

Olga Lindberg, Mincin’s mother, ran a cleaning business in St. Petersburg, Florida. For her, the Caringbridge site was terrifying.

“Dianna, don’t do this,” Lindberg said she shrieked into the phone. She had a thick, German accent.

“Little Dennis is your brother’s only son. If you let him die, you die along with him, because I will no longer have a daughter.”

Until then Lindberg, a Baptist, had tolerated her daughter’s adopted faith. Now she thought of her daughter as a murderer.

One afternoon, Lindberg said, she called the oncology ward to speak with Dennis. The nurse who answered the phone told her that Jehovah’s Witnesses sat with Dennis day and night. The nurse said she had heard a Witness tell Dennis that accepting blood would make him unclean.

“Mrs. Lindberg,” the nurse said, “I’m telling you this because I’m a grandmother, and what they’re doing to your grandson is unforgivable.”


I think it is very relevant to note that the kid in this case had become baptized into the JW religion at the age of 13, just a few months before he became sick.  That's a big deal because JWs have a policy that once you have been baptized (even if you are a kid when you're baptized), you can be punished for breaking the rules of the JW faith through disfellowshipping (which essentially means that everyone in the JW religion is supposed to shun you unless you are able to show you are repentant and work your way back into their approval). Accepting a blood transfusion is definitely grounds for being shunned in this way. I do wonder if this poor kid, who had so much trouble finding stability in his life before his aunt took him in and introduced him to the JWs, might not have been so determined to die if it was not for the fear of being shunned by his JW community if he did accept the blood. I think the doctors made a HUGE mistake by not insisting that the JWs leave the room every time they talked to him about blood, because if he was scared about being shunned or having doubts, he certainly would not have admitted that in front of other JWs knowing the potential risk of punishment if he was seen as giving in to "the world". 
There is more background info on disfellowshipping and shunning here for those who want more context: 
http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/disfellowship-shunning.php

 

Edited by Coldwinterskies
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It was the boy's decision (poor indoctrinated fool).  Personally, the Aunt (as his legal guardian) should be charged with Conspiracy to Commit Murder and so should the Watchtower Society. (Although I doubt that will ever happen.)

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Even though in Washington State, it was legally his decision, I really think 14 is too young. There is research indicating the male brain doesn't fully finish developing until the early to mid 20s.

http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html

Was this boy interviewed by any kind of mental health professional to ascertain his maturity? Or did he just have the JW's whispering in his ear all day?

My mind boggles at this. He's old enough to make such a serious medical decision, one that ultimately takes his life, but he's not old enough to legally drink alcohol or drive? Ridiculous.

Edited by DaffyDill
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Hate to say so (being actually a Licensed Medical Professional, FWIW), but I am regretfully sorta-kinda on the side of the kid. I'd seriously take the opinion of a 14-year-old whether they wanted to go through yet another round of chemo or radiation to buy time or maybe go for a cure. How exactly is this a whole lot different?

If you TRULY feel your own immortal soul is at risk (never mind your particular religious background), that adds a BIG factor to the forces in play. *calls up some of the old martyrologies*  "Oh, just burn a little incense before the icon of the Ruler, and you can go free, it's just a formality". 

@DaffyDill: yes, there is a lot of new knowledge about how brains mature. But how can this play out in real life? Will 18-year-olds who want to enlist in the military need an Elder's Override? Will a 20-year-old male need an OK to marry (which in the US, IIRC, emancipates and provides adult status)?

I, for one, sincerely hope and wish that SOMEONE was able to talk deeply with the kid, minus possibly censorious folk hanging around. Also wish there was a LOT more time and space for the kid to be able to think, choose, and then FREELY decide---but one big problem with choice and personal autonomy?--sometimes, it doesn't play out the way we'd LIKE it to go.

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40 minutes ago, samira_catlover said:

Hate to say so (being actually a Licensed Medical Professional, FWIW), but I am regretfully sorta-kinda on the side of the kid. I'd seriously take the opinion of a 14-year-old whether they wanted to go through yet another round of chemo or radiation to buy time or maybe go for a cure. How exactly is this a whole lot different?

If you TRULY feel your own immortal soul is at risk (never mind your particular religious background), that adds a BIG factor to the forces in play. *calls up some of the old martyrologies*  "Oh, just burn a little incense before the icon of the Ruler, and you can go free, it's just a formality". 

@DaffyDill: yes, there is a lot of new knowledge about how brains mature. But how can this play out in real life? Will 18-year-olds who want to enlist in the military need an Elder's Override? Will a 20-year-old male need an OK to marry (which in the US, IIRC, emancipates and provides adult status)?

I, for one, sincerely hope and wish that SOMEONE was able to talk deeply with the kid, minus possibly censorious folk hanging around. Also wish there was a LOT more time and space for the kid to be able to think, choose, and then FREELY decide---but one big problem with choice and personal autonomy?--sometimes, it doesn't play out the way we'd LIKE it to go.

RE the first bolded: Absolutely I agree with you in the case of a 14 year old who has endured round after round of radiation and/or chemo, for sure. But this boy was diagnosed 3 weeks before the case one before a judge. Three weeks! He'd hardly had time to fully process what was happening to him, and had representatives from the JW's in his room whenever doctors were talking to him about possible treatments. An adult would have difficulty adjusting to being told they had weeks to live, let alone a teenager.

He also had a 75% chance of surviving if he had the transfusion, and became healthy enough for chemo.

This boy had finally found a place where he belonged, after years of being thrown from pillar to post by his drug addicted parents, with his aunt and the JWs, and the thought of surviving and being shunned by the first group that accepted him, would certainly have had an effect IMHO.

Re the second bolded: I wasn't suggesting any such thing, merely pointing out how out of sync this law, making a 14 year old legally responsible for possible life threatening medical treatment is, when compared to other "age" type laws in the US.

I think the whole thing is just incredibly sad.

Edited by DaffyDill
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Elders at the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn pointed to Genesis 9:4, which condemns cannibalism, and Leviticus 17:10, which says, “I will set my face against that soul who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.”

Not that it’s been uniform. Some Witnesses say they would take fractions of blood but not whole blood or specific parts – plasma, platelets, red blood cells or white blood cells. Others accept organ transplants.

Wait, that's their whole justification for condemning blood transfusions?

Who came up with the stupid and evil idea of taking the least convenient interpretation of that verse?

Yes, I knew that their practice was stupid and evil but I hadn't realised that the reasoning behind it was so... :smiley-signs131:

Monsters.

 

A more benign example of this kind of thinking (not related to the JWs, or at least I have no idea whether they do this too) is Deuteronomy 14:21 "Do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk." being turned into "prepare meat and milk products in separate kitchens" (something I've seen practiced in Israel).  I think it's taking things way too far from what was meant, and its kinda silly, but at least it's not harming or killing people like the JWs' blood transfusion thing.

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One of their favorite comeback lines on the topic of eating blood vs. transfusing it is "If a doctor told you not drink alcohol, would you inject it directly into your veins?"

I wonder if this young man will someday appear on the cover of the Watchtower or Awake! along with others who chose death over blood transfusions with the title "They Put Jehovah First."

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6 hours ago, laPapessaGiovanna said:

This is very disturbing. JW is a monstrous cult.

Yes it is!!  This is such a sad story all around. 

Edited by Jana814
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In my country social services can temporarily take guardianship over children whose parents refuse lifesaving treatment like this. A JW I know told me she was glad it was that way. She knew that her child would get care if needed while neither the child or her would be punished for it since it is out of her and the child's control. 

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Multiple medical ethicists were involved.

Five senior oncologists at the hospital decided that the boy had the right to make the decision.

The social worker contacted CPS who contacted a judge who ruled in the boy's favor.

I do not believe I have the wisdom, the knowledge, nor the right to armchair quarterback a whole host of professionals who were involved.

Sad?  Absolutely.

But we ALL have a belief system.  To assume that my knowledge or belief justifies overriding the belief of another - I cannot do that - no matter how wrong-headed that belief may seem to be.

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11 hours ago, CyborgKin said:
34 minutes ago, SpoonfulOSugar said:

Multiple medical ethicists were involved.

Five senior oncologists at the hospital decided that the boy had the right to make the decision.

The social worker contacted CPS who contacted a judge who ruled in the boy's favor.

I do not believe I have the wisdom, the knowledge, nor the right to armchair quarterback a whole host of professionals who were involved.

Sad?  Absolutely.

But we ALL have a belief system.  To assume that my knowledge or belief justifies overriding the belief of another - I cannot do that - no matter how wrong-headed that belief may seem to be.

Quote function is majorly messed up over here: TRYING to quote SpoonfulOSugar:

I do not always like your choices (generic who). Sometimes I think you are lacking in lots of details; other times, I do not LIKE your choice because because because whatever:  this affronts me, this conflicts with what I *really* think should happen, if you were as Wise As I Am and had all the Supreme Knowledge of Everything That Is Right and Proper, all per the Deity. Of course, if you happen to Believe Truly (as I do), you will of course make the RIGHT decision!

For centuries, people have chosen death, rather than to oppose what they honestly felt was the word of their own Blessed Eternal.

Do I like this?--no. BUT THIS IS NOT MY DECISION TO MAKE.

NONETHELESS, for anyone who has reached a reasonable level of sentience: I DO not necessarily approve your choices, but I support your autonomy in choosing.  Wishing you strength and comfort in your choice, but still wishing in my heart you had chosen otherwise.

 

33 minutes ago, SpoonfulOSugar said:

 

 

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You know, I wonder about this. I have no background with JWs, but some with Islam because my very close best friend from when we were teenagers (she was really my only friend and my mom liked to constantly criticize me and try to control me re: food, plus living in my old house, we had no AC at all and mom was stingy with the heat, so I was always over at my friend's), was Muslim. She didn't always fast for Ramadan but her parents did. And, her mom was a doctor. So, I learned that "no eating/drinking" includes taking oral medicines, but not IVs, shots, or patches. You'd think JWs would be able to make that distinction too.

Incidentally, Muslims refusing to orally take meds during Ramadan has led to some advances in getting medicine to people by other means, like developing a patch delivery system for meds not previously delivered that way.

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I think back on myself as 14 year old. At that time, I was a very religious kid, was sure about heaven, and understood death as I'd already lost many loved ones. As 30-something me looks back at that girl, I realize I didn't truly understand just how much life laid (and still does) before me and couldn't fully grasp what forever and permanently really mean. Or that my strongly held religious views would change as I matured. 

I think minors should have a say in their medical care, but it shouldn't be a determinative factor and should be contingent on the child's understanding of the treatment and their illness. It should be weighed along with other factors like the invasiveness of the treatment, the prognosis, etc.

This is one case where I think the child, even though she's young, should have a big say: (CNN story about terminally ill 5 year old).  Her treatments are very painful, she's terminal, and the treatments would only prolong her life for a brief time. She may not understand death fully, but it will happen shortly whether she gets hospital care or not. Her choice isn't whether she will die or not, but rather how and where it will happen. 

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56 minutes ago, samira_catlover said:

NONETHELESS, for anyone who has reached a reasonable level of sentience: I DO not necessarily approve your choices, but I support your autonomy in choosing.  Wishing you strength and comfort in your choice, but still wishing in my heart you had chosen otherwise.

This is very well stated.

I feel the same about a wide variety of "refusals" of intervention/treatment as well as about strategies like hunger strikes.  

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I agree with the age 14 medical decision law in WA, particularly for kids seeking contraception or information about other subjects that might not find a sympathetic ear in their home.

My 14-yo daughter decided not to get braces, even though our orthodontist recommended it. She had seen her brother go through five (!) years of braces and didn't want them at all. Her issues were much less serious than my son's (he had seven extractions and had a lot of moving about that needed to happen for a good bite). 

The ortho was understanding and accepting of her informed decision to not do braces at this time. The only thing he emphasized was that it would be easier to have braces at 14, when many people have them, than at 25. She acknowledged the truth of that, but likes her teeth the way they are, crooked ones and all.

The assistant gave me a silver lining - if DD waits until she's 25, it's unlikely I'll have to pay for them ;-)

I always ask my kids (17yo son, 14yo daughter) if they want to talk to the doctor alone or if they want me to come in with them. I think they deserve bodily autonomy in their teens.

I would have a hard time letting them refuse treatment that had a 75% chance of success, though...

 

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Interestingly enough RE keeping kosher and fasting on Ramadan, my Jewish friends tell me that the Torah allows exceptions to it if it'll save a life (organ donation for example) and my Muslim friends tell me people with health problems are exempt from fasting on Ramadan (which I assume would apply to oral medication.) But, then again, none of them are fundie.

I agree that at a certain age kids should have autonomy over their medical treatments, but in this case, I think it would be right not to let him refuse treatment. I know in my state the 14 year old cutoff has some room for discretion...this poor boy's being manipulated.

It's one thing for a terminal illness. It's another entirely for something you could easily survive.

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It sounds like this kid knows in his heart what he feels to be true, which for him is the teaching of JW.  He is old enough to grok that he is sick and without treatment will probably die and he wants to go to heaven.  From what I understand, for a hardcore JW, blood products (or whole blood or whatever it is he needs that he's refusing) will literally keep him from getting into heaven.  If I am understanding that correctly, then that is what he truly believes and I think he must truly believe that because it doesn't sound like he's waffled on it a bit.  

I just can't fault the kid for not wanting to get himself banned from heaven.  I also can't muster much judgement for the aunt who agrees with him not wanting to get himself banned from heaven.  

If we were talking about a younger child, I think I'd feel differently but he's 14.  He's still a kid, he's super impressionable, but I don't think that means it's OK to automatically negate how he identifies religiously just because it's something that's so far from my own spiritual identity (I'm an atheist).

It's terribly sad, he's going to die but lots of terribly sad things happen every day and this is so very far from the worst.  He is making his own decisions and I will fight tooth and nail for people (even 14 year olds who just joined JWs 3 weeks ago!) to be able to make those decisions for themselves.  Just because it may seem crazy to others doesn't mean it's any less important and real to him, even if it is brand new.  Even if he changes his mind and later on says, "Wow, I can't believe I almost didn't accept that transfusion, that was nuts!"

For context, I have done end of life care for many people and I always felt as privileged to be a part of that as I did when I was helping delivering babies.  I have advocated my ass off for people to have the right to die, and I'm proud to say that I have been instrumental in helping people and families wade through all the crap that comes with these decisions.  I'd do the same for this boy.  

I guess, for me, the more compelling question is at what age is it deemed acceptable to for someone to make a decision like this (as in, a transfusion would save their lives but they refuse vs refusing endless rounds of chemo for a barely curable cancer)?

When thinking about this question, I think it's important to not think about your own kids or kids in your family, obviously it's impossible to remain rational.  Emotions aside, what age is that kind of decision acceptable?

(Sorry for the wall'o'text!)

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7 hours ago, Imagine20 said:

I think back on myself as 14 year old. At that time, I was a very religious kid, was sure about heaven, and understood death as I'd already lost many loved ones. As 30-something me looks back at that girl, I realize I didn't truly understand just how much life laid (and still does) before me and couldn't fully grasp what forever and permanently really mean. Or that my strongly held religious views would change as I matured. 

I think minors should have a say in their medical care, but it shouldn't be a determinative factor and should be contingent on the child's understanding of the treatment and their illness. It should be weighed along with other factors like the invasiveness of the treatment, the prognosis, etc.

This is one case where I think the child, even though she's young, should have a big say: (CNN story about terminally ill 5 year old).  Her treatments are very painful, she's terminal, and the treatments would only prolong her life for a brief time. She may not understand death fully, but it will happen shortly whether she gets hospital care or not. Her choice isn't whether she will die or not, but rather how and where it will happen. 

This. I've been in/out of hospitals since I was 11. If someone had asked me if I really wanted surgery/medical treatments at that time I would have told you no. Thankfully, my parents kept the option open, knowing I would probably need it eventually. However, so glad not JW! For that I am grateful! I have needed many transfusions. I'd probably be dead at this point if I hadn't gotten them! I think that is the most disgusting thing to withhold lifesaving treatments in the name of a cults rules. :562479351e8d1_wtf(2):

the age of consent thing is kinda tricky. I mean, for example, a 6-7 year old on their 3rd cancer relapse should have full say in their treatment. I think at that point they've earned that right. on the same token there are teens whose parents should fully help make those decisions for them. its not an easy answer. I think the courts have tried to help determine this, but it's a dynamic thing--no two situations are alike. Which makes it harder.

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1 hour ago, ShepherdontheRock said:

Interestingly enough RE keeping kosher and fasting on Ramadan, my Jewish friends tell me that the Torah allows exceptions to it if it'll save a life (organ donation for example) and my Muslim friends tell me people with health problems are exempt from fasting on Ramadan (which I assume would apply to oral medication.) But, then again, none of them are fundie.

I agree that at a certain age kids should have autonomy over their medical treatments, but in this case, I think it would be right not to let him refuse treatment. I know in my state the 14 year old cutoff has some room for discretion...this poor boy's being manipulated.

It's one thing for a terminal illness. It's another entirely for something you could easily survive.

Well, from what I know, unless it's a major chronic illness, or pregnancy (so something like a cold/flu/24 hour bug), the thing to do is make up the fast day(s) later. So many people with minor illnesses or something that is manageable but needs meds choose to keep it up. The level of sickness required to exempt one varies with level of devoutness I guess.

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25 minutes ago, What the fux say said:

.../Snipped

It's terribly sad, he's going to die but lots of terribly sad things happen every day and this is so very far from the worst.  He is making his own decisions and I will fight tooth and nail for people (even 14 year olds who just joined JWs 3 weeks ago!) to be able to make those decisions for themselves.  Just because it may seem crazy to others doesn't mean it's any less important and real to him, even if it is brand new.  Even if he changes his mind and later on says, "Wow, I can't believe I almost didn't accept that transfusion, that was nuts!"

 

re the bolded: That's not going to happen. He's dead.

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1 minute ago, DaffyDill said:

re the bolded: That's not going to happen. He's dead.

Ok, substitute this with another teen going through the same thing then.  Otherwise, what's the point of discussing it?  He made his decision, he's dead.  

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It's one thing ot be an adult not influenced by anyone and make those choices.I loathe when religion is involved especially with vulnerable kids. We don't always make the best decisions even at 18-21, let alone 14. Anytime it comes up about making laws to protect kids, religious rights get thrown into the mix. So nothing will ever change in America at least not soon.

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