Morality and Ethics and faith healing

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The Opinion of the Supreme Court of Oregon

The article evaluates the opinion of the Supreme Court of Oregon on the case involving Dale and Shannon Hickman, the parents of the premature baby. In particular, attention is paid to the ethics and morals of the judge's decision to prosecute both parents with manslaughter for not seeking the medical intervention of their son, David. In addition, the doctrines of consistency and virtue ethics are used to examine the circumstances prior to the ruling of the court and the decision itself. From a theoretical review and a personal appraisal of the problem, the essay reveals the immoral nature of the action made by the newborn parents not to seek medical attention.

Ethics and Morality in Faith Healing

Faith-based healing has been debated on by social, religious and health and medical extremists over the years. In some religions, major ailments can best be cured through religious faith-based interventions. Particularly, prayers and a mix of religious rituals are considered to be the best remedy for health complications to believers in these religions (Levin, 2009). The decision by Oregon Supreme Court Judge to convict two parents with manslaughter upon the death of their son, David Hickman, can be viewed from multiple ethical and moral angles. The essay evaluates the moral principles and ethical standards surrounding the judge's decision to convict Dale and Shannon Hickman, David's parents, of manslaughter upon failure to seek medical interventions for the complications with which the child was born.

The Premature Birth of David

On September 26, 2009, David was born two months premature. Weighing only 3 pounds, 7 ounces, as per the records of the court documents, there was a necessary suspicion on the ability of the child to survive (Bever, 2015). On the contrary, David's parents believed that the child was healthy enough to survive. In their view, the fact that their son was born underage was not worth attracting medical attention or any intervention initially. In fact, upon his birth, the father rushed to the room and anointed his son with olive oil as a religious practice of faith and staunch belief in Christianity. Within minutes, David changed to blue, then gray. Following David's death, Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the parents were guilty of manslaughter for not opting for medical solution to their son at the time of his premature birth. Though the decision was made in the year 2011, an appeal by the parents was overruled in the year 2015 (Bever, 2015). It remains a current case as the parents continue to seek other avenues of explaining their situations.

The Debate between Faith-Based Healing and Medical Solutions

There is a strong debate between believers in faith-based healing and medical solutions to ailments. Some people believe in religion per se as a form of healing. According to the case in which the judge had to make a decision on whether or not the parents were guilty of manslaughter, petitions from both sides presented their views. Religion, medicine and law had their ethical and moral arguments based on fundamentals of their practices. The judge in this case had to make a tricky decision. Given the parents' faith, it became difficult to overrule the fact that God has a hand in restoring health to the sick. In addition, the requirements of the law stipulate that parental negligence arises when the two fail to exploit all available options towards restoring the child's health. In the view of the court, the parents only sought to religious faith-based option. It is for this reason that David's father anointed him with olive oil and held on to faith to see his son get healed. The judge's decision was, therefore, inclined on the side of the legal and medical interventions. David's parents ought to have looked into all possible avenues including the medical options to cure their son.

Analyzing the Events and the Court's Decision

The events leading to the death of David and decision by the Supreme Court can be analyzed through the consequentialists' theory. Consequentialism states that the morality or rightness of an action can best be seen from the impact it creates to the immediate people affected by such decisions (Oderberg, 2011). In spite of the fact that David's parents played a role in attempting to seek for faith-based interventions, the effects were not positive on the newborn. There were multiple options to choose from; even combine two or more alternatives. Though there is no assurance that medical intervention could have saved their son, the mere failure to ignore this option can be deemed as a decision that contributed to David's demise. Virtue ethics is another set of moral theories originally developed by Aristotle. In the view of virtue ethics, the telos of a human life is to survive and life according to reason (Hurthouse, 1999). This reason has to yield the greatest happiness to all individuals immediately related to the person. In the view of the judge, therefore, the decision and reason by David's parents did not yield the most good for their son. This led to the final death of David in just a matter of hours.

Moral and Ethical Standards in Nursing and Medicine

Moral and ethical standards in nursing and medicine accommodate faith-based healing. However, it has to be applied in combination with medical interventions. In fact, priority is given to medical interventions. In the case of David's death leading to court's decision against the defendants; the principles of ethical practice and morality were applied. Faith-based healing per se could not save the situation. Furthermore, David's parents had all the abilities to seek medical solutions to the challenge that David was born with. The decision by David's parents, therefore, violated the theories of consequentialism and virtue ethics as well as the nursing and medicine codes of conduct in line with faith-based cures. The court's decision in 2011 as well as the rejection of appeal in 2015 by the parents is well-informed.


Top of Form

Bever, L. (2015). Faith-healing parents convicted in newborn’s death lose appeal to top court. United States: Washington Post. Retrieved from

Hurthouse, R. (1999). Virtue ethics and human nature. Hume Studies Volume XXV (1): 67-82. Retrieved from

Levin, J. (2009). How faith heals: a theoretical approach. Elsevier, Inc. Retrieved from

Oderberg, D. S. (2011). Moral theory: A non-consequentialist approach. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

October 12, 2022

Life Law Family



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Decision Court Parents

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