Does mother always know best?

Iqra Choudhry discusses instances in which the medical condition of children is compromised by their parents’ views.

Iqra Choudhry
3rd May 2016

Medical science can often be a minefield. The slightest mistake in terms of new drugs, or treatments and tragedy can ensue. But what about the casualties that ensue when medicine is rejected completely?

There have been many instance of parents taking their childrens’ medical wellbeing into their own hands. we’re here to ask whether sometimes, parents should take a backseat to doctors and other medical professionals.

Anti-vaxxers are people opposed to vaccination against disease, usually parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. The anti-vaxxing movement has been around for almost as long as vaccination itself, but picked up a huge following around the turn of the century, when a physician named Andrew Wakefield published a paper full of falsified data in 1998 which suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine was linked to autism in young children.

“some religious groups believe that blood transfusions are forbidden, making surgical procedures a near impossibility and often having fatal consequences”

Subsequently, thousands of panicked parents stopped vaccinating their children against these diseases, sometimes with fatal consequences. Wakefield was exposed as a scientific fraud, stripped of his medical degree and all of his co-authors withdrew their names from his study. Plenty of real scientific evidence then proved that there was no link between autism and vaccination.

Although Wakefield’s ‘data’ was discredited by the scientific community, the myth surrounding vaccination was still believed and perpetuated by Wakefield himself. As a result, parents (especially in the USA) have refused life-saving vaccines.

What are the implications of having low vaccination rates in a population of children?

Well, some children can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. These are the young, the immunocompromised (like kids undergoing chemotherapy, or with certain medical conditions) can’t be vaccinated. And these children rely on something called ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity is a concept that relies on the majority of children being vaccinated and therefore free of preventable diseases such as measles. This disease-free environment keeps immunocompromised children safe.

When herd immunity is interfered with, children who are at risk can contract measles, mumps, rubella - diseases which might not kill healthy children, but which can be fatal for those who are immunocompromised.

In not vaccinating their children, parents who take an anti-vaxxing stance  are putting the safety of not only their own children, but other children in jeopardy.

"some religious groups believe that blood transfusions are forbidden, making surgical procedures a near imposssibility and often having fatal consequences”

Anti-vaxxing is one of the many harmful stances taken by parents who have put their children in danger. A recent tragedy highlighted the case of a young boy who died from bacterial meningitis (a curable and preventable disease) here in the UK, because his parents didn’t take him to the doctor when his symptoms first manifested themselves, choosing naturopathic remedies instead. When they finally took their child to hospital, it was too late. The parents have been charged for and convicted of medical negligence and manslaughter to a lesser degree.

The truth is, there are hundreds of instances in which parents can do more to harm their children by not giving way to medical professionals. Sometimes, these instances boil down to a fight between medicine and religion - for example, some religious groups believe that blood transfusions are forbidden, making surgical procedures a near imposssibility and often having fatal consequences in instances where a simple and straightforward procedure could have saved a life.

It gets darker in the States. A religious group in Idaho are protected by a loophole in the law which prevents them from being charged with neglect - these people believe that prayer is the only path to healing, forgoing medical attention regardless of the illness, in favour of devout prayers - if their faith is strong enough, God will save their child. Unsurprisingly, the community has a high rate of child mortality.

We need to realise that there are instances in which parents really don’t know best, and find ways to step in to keep children safe.

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