Emma Thompson: Religious objections to saving a kid’s life are ‘not reasonable’


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Here are some photos of Emma Thompson at the New York screening of The Children Act, her new film. In the film, Emma plays a judge (in the UK) who has to make a ruling on whether a child of Jehovah’s Witness parents can and should receive a life-saving blood transfusion. The child is dying of leukemia, and while this particular case isn’t based on a true story, there are many true stories like this, where doctors and hospitals have to go to court to treat children whose parents have religious objections. Here’s the trailer:

I think it would be a better film without all of the judge’s marriage drama – it seems like they’re trying to tell two different stories, but what do I know. Anyway, at the New York screening, Emma chatted with Page Six about how this role was difficult for her to play because she finds it hard to rationalize how any parent could object to saving their child’s life:

“Very difficult for me. I certainly respect a mother and father’s decision for their own child, but still can’t rationalize allowing a son to die. I met with judges to learn what pains they might go through in handling such a situation. Some friends preside in family court. We discussed how hard it is to deal with such responsibility. They told me how they handle it. How difficult it can be. We discussed courage of convictions and the power prosecutors can wield. I did research. I sat in court. I watched how they presided. It’s hard to compete with religion yet allowing parents to affect that decision, albeit for religious purposes, seems not reasonable when your child could die. Our scenes are intense. However, many people do things you can’t understand. A complexity of genetics negates existence of these arguments. You see young people dying early so it’s a philosophical road. You must let it go when you realize people do things you just can’t understand.”

[From Page Six]

I think the filmmakers probably want to showcase the “both sides” argument and that’s why the role of the “dying child” is played by a well-spoken teenager. It feels like the issue is more clear-cut when it’s a younger kid who might not really understand what’s going on, and it’s just about the parents’ religious beliefs. In those cases, of course there should be a medical and legal intervention, just my opinion. But in this film, it’s like the judge character is going through a philosophical debate with the dying teenager about his right to die. Which… is still a complicated conversation to have, but most of these cases aren’t like that.

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Photos courtesy of Getty.

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24 Responses to “Emma Thompson: Religious objections to saving a kid’s life are ‘not reasonable’”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    I’m sort of interested in this movie. I read the book, and it was very good. I think the marriage plays a part because she is trying to imagine what she would do as a parent, and she doesn’t have kids, and her marriage is failing, so its kind of like this idea of “who am I to judge” except she IS the judge here. and in the book the kid becomes weirdly attached to her. So it ends up being kind of a weird story, which is why I’m only “sort of” interested in the movie.

  2. Mariposa says:

    I read the book last year and thought it was beautiful, like all of Ian McEwin’s. I think he does best with small-scale, intimate stories, and I felt like the marriage breakup part of the book was the best part.

  3. Mara says:

    Don’t know if anyone watches Holby City here but they recently looked at this issue from the perspective of the medical staff around, one of whom was the grandfather, of the young patient.
    From what I can remember they kind of dodged making a decision one way or the other but still a fairly good storyline and Ric and Sacha are always good value.

  4. Lex says:

    There’s a case like this in the news right now but it’s a 16 year old JW who is pregnant and very petite – Drs say she may haemorrhage during the birth but she refuses a transfusion even if it kills her and the baby. A judge intervened and said no – not happening.

    • Aims says:

      I live less then a mile from a “church” that has made national news. This is a church that refuses to use medical care for everything. Parents have gone to jail and has been prosecuted for manslaughter because their children have died over absolutely lame reasons. Something that a simple doctors visit could take care of. One case was a teenage boy died from a UTI that had gone untreated and the infection had spread throughout his body and he died. Women have died in child birth because they deliver at home without any sort of supervision.

      Finally a law was passed that gave zero tolerance to these senseless deaths. They continue to stand by their ignorance and then they go to jail and are made into some kind of hero in their congregation. I am appalled by the defiance and zero concern that these people have. The most basic instinct a parent has is if they see their child in pain or sick is to run to a doctor or medical institution to find relief for your child.

  5. KNy says:

    This is a complicated topic, but very simple one at the same time. Adults of sound mind, as far as I’m concerned, can do what they want. When it comes to a child and life-saving measures, then all beliefs are off the table. HOWEVER the lifesaving medication or procedure should not just prolong suffering. It needs to genuinely prolong life. This is not uncharted territory (at least in America). The leukemia case in the movie – it’s difficult to tell if the kid was just diagnosed or if he’s on his deathbed and needs a transfusion ASAP. I am going to assume that it’s early on in his course, because treatment for leukemia means marrow-suppressing chemo, which means you *will* need transfusions and there’s almost no way someone could go through cycles of chemo for leukemia and never need anything. In children, liquid tumors (ie leukemia) tend to have better outcomes than solid tumors. This depends on what type of leukemia (ALL vs. AML vs. some more rare type), the age, and the presentation. Therefore, leukemia is a very treatable illness with very good outcomes. Withholding transfusions for leukemia is akin to withholding treatment. So, he needs a transfusion.

    There’s the caveat that this is a movie, so it he magically had chemo and then relapsed or the chemo isn’t working and he’s on his deathbed? A transfusion is going to give him days, not a long life. So, no transfusion.

    This isn’t rocket science. I hate when movies make issues out of things with long precedents.

    • Hoopjumper says:

      This is really interesting, thanks for posting.

    • Becks1 says:

      I don’t know how medically accurate the book is, but from what I remember the transfusion is necessary to save his life. Without it, he will die in a short period of time.

    • LadyT says:

      >>>HOWEVER the lifesaving medication or procedure should not just prolong suffering. It needs to genuinely prolong life.

      Oh how I wish more people understood this! For all loved ones. Just because an option is suggested, does not mean it’s morally or ethically required. Sometimes the best thing is letting go. I’ve seen way too many older patients suffering for years through procedures and nursing home living because a family member felt obligated to “try everything.”
      I’m speaking from experience. When my mother’s life as herself was over, we let her go in the most beautiful way possible, rather than spend miserable months to gain “time.” It was the right decision.

      • Swack says:

        Learned that lesson early on. When I was 22 (in 1975) we found out my dad had cancer. They opened him up as they were not sure where the cancer was. It was so widespread that they closed him up and gave him 3 months to live. Chemo would have been of no help. At the end of his life my mom refused to put him in the hospital just to prolong it being on life support (living wills were not that common at the time). He died peacefully at home. When my mom was ready to go, we called hospice and let her die in peace also. Don’t put nursing homes down too much. My mom was in one because she needed 24 hour care and I could not provide that and having someone come to the home was too expensive. She was in a wonderful nursing home that took good care of her.

      • LadyT says:

        You sound like a wonderful daughter. You are right about nursing homes. I phrased that poorly. I meant extending a very low quality of life merits deep consideration, truly weighing options, not that the actual nursing home was the problem. My brother-in-law’s mother had a major stroke years ago, followed by organ failure that could possibly be rectified with surgery. He chose to put her through surgery. And there she lays ten years later.

    • Mariposa says:

      In the book, he has just been diagnosed, and he needs a transfusion so that he is able to start treatment.

  6. Maya says:

    I agree with her – no matter what religion, the Gods don’t want people to refuse treatment to save lives.

    Religious people forget that their Gods gave them the tools to save or improve lives.

    If Gods didn’t want that, they wouldn’t have let the mankind “invent” the tools.

    • Lilix40 says:

      I quite agree. I am religious myself and it annoys me to no end when people use God as an excuse for their own obscurantism and ignorance.

    • pottymouth pup says:

      Back when I worked in the ICU, I ran into quite the opposite problem: people refusing to allow their loved one to discontinue intervention that was really just prolonging the act of death

      • LadyT says:

        I agree. This is by far the more common problem. “No, we’re finished is here” is a very real option. In fact it’s a brave, selfless act of kindness. I wish more people could understand that.

      • Trashaddict says:

        It will be easier if the language changes and the culture changes. A relative signing an order for “Do not resuscitate” feels like they are denying their loved one something. Signing an order for “Allow natural death” is less frightening and reflects what pottymouth pup is describing above. That being said, dying is frightening for patients and family, a lot of emotional and symptom support is needed. Some families are not emotionally equipped to handle death at home.
        Also a message for everybody, even if you’re young: a living will takes the guesswork out of this for your relatives. Designate a healthcare power of attorney who you know will carry out your wishes. And put your Advance Directives on paper and where your relatives will find them.

  7. Laura says:

    This movie looks interesting…definitely worth a night out at the movies.

  8. Dietcokehead says:

    This topic fascinates and infuriates me in equal measure. I’m totally on board with an adult of sound mind choosing to eschew their own treatment. An adult typically can understand their illness and the ramifications of withholding treatment and if they choose the option that leads to death, more power to them. But for kids? Kids don’t understand and they haven’t had an opportunity to explore life and religion outside what’s practiced in the home. They haven’t had a chance to decide for themselves. Mom or dad’s wishes shouldn’t be the reason a life is snuffed out.

  9. Milla says:

    Religion should be private and bellow medicine. I wanna watch the movie but i know I’ll be pissed.

  10. adastraperaspera says:

    The majority of victims of these religious strictures are women and children. Patriarchal loons who block their access to reasonable health care also put our public health at risk.

  11. Moothemango says:

    Although it sounds interesting, there are very clear cut guidelines in the NHS regarding these situations: A child cannot refuse life saving treatment, nor can their parents. An adult can make whatever decision they like… difficult to see how this film will glaze over these facts and a well established law!

  12. Rapunzel says:

    If the child is not an adult, the medical professional should be making the decision for what is what is best for them. Not the parents, because they don’t know. I’m f*cking sick and tired of people not trusting professionals to do their job. When a medical professional tells you your child needs a treatment, it is your job as a parent to listen because they are the ones with the information and you are not.

    As for adults refusing life-saving medical treatment, I think they have that right. But I also think there are many adults that give up too soon. I think in general we should always trust the doctor has our best interest in line and some people forget that. If you’re going to refuse medical treatment as adults, should be something that you decide after serious consultation with the medical professionals who gives you an honest assessment of what that will mean.

  13. Melissa says:

    As a former JW, I’m very interested in watching this movie. I’ve know cases in which children have died and it’s sickening. I’m glad when authorities intervene and in most cases, they win. Its very difficult for them to go against their beliefs. They think that by accepting a blood transfusion they will die at Armageddon, or if they die even after the accepting the transfusion they will not resurrect in Paradise.