“Leave the Travoltas alone,” said Margery Eagan in the Boston Herald. Since last week’s heartbreaking news that actor John Travolta’s 16-year-old son, Jett, was found dead of an apparent seizure at the family’s vacation home in the Bahamas, a host of know-it-all critics has served up a “nauseating, venomous stew” of speculation and innuendo about the young man’s death. The consensus of these self-appointed experts seems to be that because Travolta, 46, and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, are followers of Scientology—the controversial religion that opposes the use of psychiatric drugs—they must have been denying Jett vital, anti-seizure medication. Jett, the critics are saying, had many symptoms consistent with autism, including a heightened vulnerability to seizures. That armchair diagnosis is nothing but speculation, as is the assumption that Jett was not taking medication. But since the Travoltas are both celebrities and disciples of a widely despised religion, a self-righteous mob is now treating these heartbroken parents “like cardboard piñatas, held up to bash.”
There’s only one way to put the speculation to rest, said Kris Rasmussen in Beliefnet.com. The Travoltas have to make Jett’s medical history public as soon as possible. In the past, they’ve said his exposure as a toddler to cleaning products gave him Kawasaki disease, a disorder causing inflammation of the blood vessels, and that a Scientology “detoxification program” improved his health. But Kawasaki disease afflicts only very young children, and it isn’t known for causing seizures. At 16, Jett had two nannies with him almost constantly, suggesting some developmental disorder such as autism. We simply don’t know what medical care Jett was receiving, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com, especially since autopsy results were not made public. All grieving parents deserve sympathy, of course, but if their child died because they withheld potentially lifesaving medication for “theological reasons,” that sympathy rightly turns to outrage.
Whatever the facts of Jett’s death, said George Harris in The Kansas City Star, judging the Travoltas is no simple matter. As a psychologist, I can tell you that every drug has side effects, sometimes severe, and that medication doesn’t always work. The decision to take powerful medications is never an easy one. It appears to me that the Travoltas did what all parents do in these agonizing situations—they “made the best decision they could for their son based on their beliefs and the best information and advice available.”