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I was just thinking about ... wisdom and freedom

Wednesday May 20th 2009

by Paul Armstrong

boy smoking


I know I talked at length about "free will" but the recent story about 13 year old Daniel Hauser (and "his" decision to not have chemotherapy treatment for his Hogkin's lymphoma) has me thinking about wisdom and freedom. Obviously in a country of freedoms and priveleges (which is another story all together) there are still rules and laws; things which while "free" to do, you'll also face consequences for any choice.


The story of the Daneil Hauser and his mom Colleen involve more than their religious beliefs (which combine Nemenhah Band — a sect of Native American beliefs and holistic health/medicines; and Catholicism) and the Hippocratic oath. After rejecting ongoing cheomtherapy treatment, the doctors of Daniel reported the mother, who under Minnesota statutes require parents to provide necessary medical care for a child, was breaking the law. Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg ordered the Hauser's to give treatment for their son, claiming willful neglect and child endangerment, but Colleen and her son fled.


Simply put, the Hauser's are breaking the law. But at the heart of the matter is our individual freedom to choose and the wisdom of those choices and the governements involvement in deeming those choices legal or illegal. The Hauser's are exercising their freedom by choosing to break the law, and thus will face the appropriate consequences. Is it wise for the Hauser's to not only break the law, but to willfully endanger their child (who, by all accounts, has a treatable form of cancer)? No. Should they have the freedom to choose the type of care they wish provide, based on religious (or any belief for that matter) grounds? Ah, there's the problem.


While we all love the idea of freedom of choice, when it comes down to it, we only like the choices which we deem "safe". A woman has the freedom to choose to keep their unborn child or kill abort it. A man has a the right to choose whom he can have sex with (given they are of legal age). I have the freedom to drink to excess and drunkedness. You have the freedom to eat McDonald's every day and become obese. The consequences of our actions aren't as important as the freedom to do them. And this is a problem. Once the government becomes the barometer for moral and wise choices, the very value of our "freedom" becomes a facade.




Comments for "I was just thinking about ... wisdom and freedom"

Your point sounds reasonable, but it is kind of a straw man argument. Access to "freedom" is intrinsically connected to class. Every nation is governed by individuals who are forced (via global competition, etc.) to be more concerned with economic power than the welfare of the majority of the people. Freedom has always been a facade of sorts. For example, under capitalism (which necessitates private property) we are "free" to get ripped off by our landlords every month.

The freedom to be overly careless, greedy, or oppressive isn't as important as the consequences these actions can create. To maintain a sustainable planet, people should not have the "freedom" to participate in racism, sexism, obscene pollution, etc. Contemporary propaganda makes semiotics important. Are we not more "free" without racists having the freedom to express their viewpoints?

I think I understand what you're saying (in regard to first point), is that if the Hauser's were perhaps rich and/or celebrities, that they would be given a pass on their actions. Say Obama decided to seek alternative medicines to treat his child's Hodgkin's Lymphoma then he would most like be heralded (or at the least not harrassed). Is that what you're implying with "classes"?

As far as being more free without racists? Free from what? Stupidity? Everyone believes something. I know many people who would love to see a world without religion or Jesus, etc (in other words, me). Seems to be to be a matter of personal comfort than freedom. Freedom certainly isn't comfortable.

Derek, how are you getting ripped off by paying rent? Were you forced to sign a lease or did you agree to the price and then sign the lease and then move your stuff in and then right a check for deposit and then write a check on the 1st of each month for the right to live in that house for that month? And I'll ignore your logical fallacy of hasty generalization in purporting that every nation is governed by force of economics. You possibly could make the case of an appeal to common practice, in which one could argue that morality is given by majority, but you didn't.

Paul's point is far, far, far from a straw man argument. First of all, he's not setting up a misrepresentation of his opponent's theories or position in an unrealistic manor in order to knock them down as easily as you could a man made of straw. He has presented not as an argument but as an editorial on the nature of freedom of choice.

In the US, we do have freedoms, but we are, and have always been, a nation that has laws based on a common morality as derived from Judeo-Christian teachings. Have we gone astray at points in our history? Of course we have. No one person or nation or government is perfect. We all can happily agree with that. But, we must also realize that the nature of freedom is the right to do everything you would like to that doesn't harm or inhibit the freedoms of others. There are indeed places where morality must be legislated. Murder is wrong. Stealing is wrong. All law is a legislation of some level of morality. Where we draw the line, is when you start legislating the restriction of things that do not inhibit the rights of others. I abhor racism, but we have no right to restrict others from being racist or speaking hate against another race. We do have the right and moral obligation to restrict racist people from taking away the rights of other people to live their lives in freedom and liberty. You can't not hire someone who is black, that's wrong. You can't refuse to sell someone a Coke because they are Japanese. We are not less free because we are surrounded by racists, bigots, and sexists, we are proving we are more free and have more liberty. We have rightly chosen that we are not going to legislate the false right of someone to not be offended.

In returning to the original point of a mother refusing medical treatment that will save her son's life, she should be jailed. We have legislated a moral standard that says you can't refuse treatment to another human that will save their life. This is the essence of our freedom and liberty.

Freedom isn't the ability to do whatever you want. If you want full, complete social and moral liberty, argue for anarchism. Charles Kingsley said "there are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought." This sums up the America idea of freedom and liberty perfectly.

@Aaron, that's a great quote from Kingsley. "Everything is permissible, but not everyone is beneficial" (though, that's somewhat out of context in relation to this argument).

The real problem with this will be from anyone who considers themselves Pro Choice. They have to support this mother's decision to make her own choice regarding her child's care. After all, if a mother can choose to "terminate" an unborn "fetus" (who has had no ability to voice an opinion) then she has the right (or is it duty) to refuse care of a young teen.

Pro choice means that you believe the fetus is not fully alive. This is different than a kid walking and talking. I don't see the correlation from a pro choice POV. I'm not saying I'm pro choice or pro life as far as abortion goes, I do not have a fully formed stance on it. I don't think I want to have an ideology on it.

What happens if this kid gets chemotherapy and it kills him? Chemotherapy kills people every day. I don't think this issue is as cut and dry as you make the moral argument to be. I like the moral argument and it should be discussed and argued, but for this specific case, I'm not 100% sold that this mother should HAVE to subject her child to chemotherapy.

I'd have to disagree with you Renaud about your pro-choice definition. The pro-choice movement has consistently dodged the question of defining when a fetus/baby is truly alive and instead rested on defining it's movement on it being the mother's right to determine if what is growing inside of her is alive or not. By defining its movement on the mother's right to choose, they have to back this mother in her right to choose to not treat her dying son with life-saving treatment.

In a recent British Journal of Cancer article, they found that 12.6% of people died during the first cycle of chemotherapy, most of which was accounted to age and sepsis, not the chemotherapy itself. What do you think the odds are that this kids lives through his lung cancer by eating more fruits and vegetables and breathing boiling herb mist? So what happens if this kids goes through chemo and dies? The same thing that WILL happen to him if he doesn't get treatment, but with treatment the kid has a chance at survival.

This argument has to be about the preservation of life.

It's not just the 12.6% of chemotherapy killing people, it's how many people die regardless of chemotherapy. What percentage of kids in this situation are saved by the chemo?

I'm just leery of taking away rights from parents and even the right to make poor decisions. If there was a 12.6% chance my decision would kill my child, I'd definitely pause and think about it. I'd still treat my child, but this isn't endangerment in my opinion.

I think I'd be inclined to agree with you Jim about the taking away parental rights. While we have no issue when the restrictions "mesh" with our beliefs, it invites the government restricting "rights" that we may not mesh with — such as using spanking as a form of discipline, etc.

There is an infinite chasm between parental rights in raising your children and denying them medical care. Of course people are going to die because of cancer. I fail to see what your point is.

But you're totally right, because someone may die from chemo therapy, even though they have a 100% cancer of death from untreated cancer, we should just never try chemo. Brilliant deduction.

This isn't about parental rights, this is about the preservation of human life. This kid's life can be saved with chemotherapy. The ability to spank your child if he throws a fit inside of Walmart is not the same issue. That's not a life or death issue.

Thanks, Aaron for noticing my brilliant deductions. Can we tone down the sarcasm?

My point is that we are all going to die. And when you are told you have cancer you are going to die sooner. I have had many family members on chemotherapy and radiating your body is not pleasant, is painful and in many regards it's torture. My point is that you can torture your child with chemo and there's still a very good chance he's going to die anyway. I don't know those odds because each case is different. Ijust meant to point out that it's not so cut and dry. If there was a 20% chance chemo would cure my son completely and a 12.6% chance he would die from that treatment and knowing the pain of that treatment, that decision is hard. To take away my decision for my kids is wrong.

My uncle's best friend was diagnosed with cancer and he went through chemo 3 times. The 4th time, he had enough and went the hollistic route and it's been 8 years.

I just read my first article about this specific case and the court was probably right as the treatment has a 80-90% effectiveness rate. It's nice to see that the parents did not lose custody and are going along with the decision willingly. I just know chemo can be very scary and could only imagine what it's like for kids.

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