I Wonder?

At what point do you determine – either for yourself or your children – that you need to see a doctor?  At what point do you become convinced that something is seriously enough wrong that you need to try and get an appointment, or wait for hours on end in an urgent care clinic or the emergency room?  If you’ve had a nagging cough for a couple of weeks, is that the time to go?  What if you’re eating a little less?  What if your child is cranky and congested?  How long do you wait?  How serious do things have to look?
What if you thought you might be convicted of manslaughter if you don’t take your child to the doctor and they happen to die?  
A Philadelphia couple has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter and faces a decade or more in prison because they didn’t take their 2-year old son to the doctor when he exhibited symptoms of “coughing, congestion, crankiness and loss of appetite”.  I’m sorry, but that hardly seems like a list of symptoms that would send me running to the doctor immediately.  And seeing as how the couple has six other children who apparently don’t have any issues worth noting in the article, it would seem that this couple has some experience in raising children.  I’m trying to get more details on this case to see if there’s something just out of the ballpark obvious that would require at least an involuntary manslaughter ruling.  The only details provided in this particular article are tantalizingly vague.
This article indicates that they prayed for the child for two weeks before he died.  This article paints a much more compassionate picture, indicating that the prosecution in the case was not arguing that the Schaible’s weren’t loving parents, and affirming that their other children showed no signs of neglect.  Several of these articles indicate that the particular congregation the couple is affiliated had trouble almost 20 years ago.  The assertion by the prosecution is that this was not a trial of or about religion, but simply about preventative care.
The Schaible’s argued that the symptoms were no different than a cold or flu.  And I haven’t seen anything to indicate that this isn’t true.  The prosecution argued that the particular bug that their son caught could have been cured with antibiotics.  I have no reason to believe that this isn’t true either, despite a defense argument that indicates the bug could have been an anti-biotic resistant strain that might have killed the child anyway.  
To me, the issue seems to be intent and reasonableness.  The parents were intent on caring for their son, just as they clearly intended and succeeded in caring for their other six children.  Their approach to caring for their son did not involve taking him to the doctor for what appeared to be rather minor symptoms.  I can’t fault their logic at all.  I have absolutely no doubt that they believed that he was dealing with an extended cold or flu that he would eventually recover from.  He just didn’t.  How many experienced parents would look at that list of symptoms and say we’ll wait it out rather than we’ll rush to the pediatrician?
Every day there are mistakes and oversights made in hospitals around the country – around the world for that matter.  Every day, these mistakes and oversights cost lives.  Lives that arguably could have been saved if the  mistakes hadn’t been made or the oversights had been caught.  Most of the time, this is just treated as a regrettable situation.  Sometimes, the error or oversight is egregious enough to warrant a malpractice suit.  Doctors are heavily insured for this eventuality.  Yet the assumption in this ruling is that the medical community would have absolutely prevented his death, and to fail to take him to this sure source of healing is tantamount to manslaughter.
People make mistakes all the time.  Sometimes these mistakes result in death.  We can second guess in hindsight about what might have happened if this child had been taken to the doctor.  But there was nothing that appeared serious enough to warrant it.  How long would it have taken them to even get an appointment?  What would they have told the attendants in the emergency room or the clinic?  He’s been kind of cranky.  His appetite is a little down.  He has a cough.  Would the nurses have run a check on him to determine what he had?  They would have dashed off a prescription for antibiotics (or told them to go back home and keep feeding him and giving him fluids and making sure he was getting rest – depends on who you see).  Would that have saved him?  Quite possibly.  But possibly not.  Would we hold the medical attendants responsible for not diagnosing him properly, or for sending the family back home with assurances that it was probably just a tough bug and to keep caring for him the way they had been?
I’m skeptical that the parents would be on trial and now convicted if there wasn’t a religious aspect to the case.  If two parents were just distraught that their child had suddenly died, but there weren’t any huge symptoms that they were negligent of, and if they had raised enough other children to clearly have some idea of how to handle the run of the mill illnesses particular to children, but never said anything about prayer or about the devil, would they still be on trial?
I happen to believe that doctors and medicine can be a great boon.  Nothing in my religion or in my reading of the Bible demonstrates to me that I have to avoid them.  I disagree theologically with the stance of the congregation these parents belong to, and with any theology that demands prayer as a sign of faith in opposition to medical treatment.  I disagree with a theology that insists that every illness is a manifestation of spiritual warfare.  
But that doesn’t mean that this couple are bad parents.  It certainly doesn’t mean they’re criminal, or incompetent.  I’m sure they’re heartbroken over the death of their son.  Frankly there’s not much more that the state can do to them to make them any sorrier about it.  I’ll be interested to see what their sentencing turns out to be, because the only thing more tragic than the unexpected death of their son, would be the additional destruction of their family by putting these people in prison.  
And if we’re going to put them in prison, then I don’t see how we can avoid the logic of saying we have to prosecute every nurse or doctor that makes an honest mistake as well – let alone a careless or negligent oversight or misdiagnosis.  Heck, they’re professionals!  They should know better!  There seems to be a double standard at work here that is particularly troubling.
Your child is coughing in the other room.  What’s your call going to be?  

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