You Make the Call: Bubble Boy edition

This post was submitted by a BCC reader who wishes to remain anonymous.

You are an area authority seventy. A stake president calls you seeking direction on behalf of a bishop who has in his ward Barry Bubble Boy. Barry has an autoimmune deficiency that requires that he live inside of a protective bubble specially built inside of his home as his bedroom. He was transfered unto the room from the hospital when he was four, and has never left it. He is now 12.

Barry was born in the church, has a testimony of the Gospel, and desires to be baptised. Given his environment, it is impossible for him to be totally immersed in water. Even if a tank could be constructed in his bubble, his doctors would advise against subjecting him to total immersion in water. You should take as given that he cannot be immersed in water without grave risk of death.

The bishop has identified these possibilities:

  1. Baptism by sprinkling conducted through the bubble’s arm sleeves.
  2. Proxy baptism of Barry, while living.
  3. Deny Barry baptism, with the promise of baptism by proxy when he is dead.
  4. Allow Barry to risk his life by leaving the bubble for baptism by immersion.

The bishop favors 2. Barry’s order of preference is 1, 2, 4, 3, assuming he has the assurance from the First Presidency that either 1 or 2 would constitute an effective baptism.

You have been instructed by the First Presidency to resolve however you think best and most consistent with our doctrine. You are not limited by the bishops proposals–you can fashion any remedy you think most appropriate.

You make the call!

Bonus hypothetical: Is the result different for a member whose medical condition is psychological, exhibited as a severe fear of immersion in water?


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I think I’d be inclined to support the bishop’s recommendation of no. 2.

    I’d be open to suasion as to no. 2. There is a psychological impediment for Mormons with that one, as sprinkling and pouring arose in the context of pedobaptism, to which we have such a strong theological aversion. I suppose maybe I’d want to research those options historically to get a better feel for them before I committed to one of them.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    *suasion as to no. 1.*

  3. The church is very explicit about baptism being by immersion, so that precludes #1. Proxy baptism has only ever been allowed for those who are dead (that I’m aware), and going ahead with it could set a dangerous precedent, although there’s nothing *technically* verboten about it. Regardless, I’d probably suggest #3 and reluctantly allow #4.

  4. 3 is the only option.

    How many times have some of us been assured that no righteous desire denied to us in this life will be withheld in the next, if we are worthy? If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for Bubble Boy.

  5. Bring in a large tub to his room, on the opposite side of the barrier. Have a close friend or family member baptized for him while he is watching. Just the image of that in my mind gives me goosebumps.

  6. 2. Bubble Boy deserves way better than Ardis. ;)

  7. What Ardis said.

  8. I think that a chronic illness of this sort–okay, not really an illness but a disability–would be treated much the way mental handicaps are. Well, kind of.

    There would not be many opportunities to serve in the church, other than maybe doing something like website coordinator. I am assuming that Barry Bubble would not be able to marry or go to the Temple. So none of the ordinances following baptism would be possible. I think I would explain that baptism in this lifetime is not required for him, much as it is not required for those who have mental disabilities.

    Of course, Barry is capable to understanding exactly what the ordinances mean, and so I think option three would be the best option: a promise for proxy baptism after death.

    Really, though, I would be surprised if the First Presidency deferred the decision to a lower authority on such a critical matter. The Handbook outlines everything else, but this issue isn’t in it, and the response for mental handicaps are only outlined in Book 1.

  9. I think infusion is mentioned by Tertullian maybe – as an alternative in desert areas. We do temple ordinances by proxy for the living who are physically incapacitated to enter the temple, at least that was the case for a while. I don’t recall the precise restrictions now, but this case would seem to fit. So I’d say 2 is a possibility.

  10. Julie M. Smith says:

    You know those suits those poor guys wear to dive into sewage treatment plants to make repairs? Put Barry in one of those and baptism like everyone else!

  11. (E, consider yourself hit by a virtual water balloon!)

    You know, the temple endowment is no less essential and no less desired by those who understand than is baptism by Bubble Boy, and there have been (and still are) tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who lived/live without the smallest possibility of reaching a temple. Whatever theological reasons bar that proxy work for the living are at play in Bubble Boy’s case. Just as the work for deceased Saints is done for them shortly after death (it’s done automatically, if family members don’t step up and do it timely), Bubble Boy’s baptism would be done for him.

  12. Well, if we’re worried about germs and disease, maybe we could construct a tank in the bubble and use alcohol instead of water for the immersion. =p

  13. 9: WVS, that is a shocking statement, something I have never heard of and that goes counter to everything I have known, and — even from you — I’d need some reliable support before I could believe it.

  14. Have Barry be held through bubble arm sleeves like he was standing in water. Do ordinance. Make Barry hold his breath and plug his nose, then lower Barry the same way one would in a font (or pool, or lake, or whatever). Then raise him up. If the witnesses testify that Barry got horizontal (or past some horizontal line on the wall, or whatever) I would call it good.

    Folks, the water ain’t magical. It doesn’t literally wash off sins. It doesn’t literally kill you and act as a tomb. The ritual being enacted as much as possible in consistency with what the baptisee expects given the circumstances is sufficient for accomplishing the same effect as any traditional baptism ritual would.

    Still, I can’t get the image of George Castanza doing the ordinance out of my mind. Cheers.

  15. Why is there no choice allowing for baptism inside the bubble? I would think that would a lot safer and more preferable than #4. I would think that you could sterilize the water and rig a font where he could be immersed by a person reaching into one of those sleves that protrudes into the bubble. I don’t see why that can’t work.

  16. It is my understanding that there is currently a policy to allow proxy rituals for the living in certain cases in the temple.

  17. Stephanie says:

    2 sounds the most reasonable.

  18. StillConfused says:

    This is an interesting question.

    As a hypoglycemic, I am exempted from fasting for health reason. I don’t need a proxy faster or anything like that. Hence exemption from baptism seems reasonable.

    When my son was baptized, it was done at the same time as a down’s syndrome girl. The girl clearly had no idea what was going on and was screaming bloody murder. It traumatized me to the point that I had to go out into the hall until the ordeal was over. (Not a fond memory of my son’s baptism.) In that case, the baptism ritual was clearly being performed for the family’s benefit rather than the child’s. In this case, is it clear that this is something that the kid wants… or is it something that the family wants??

  19. If he has a hamster-ball type bubble for traveling, I think they should just submerge the entire hamster ball.

  20. Stapley, you astonish me.

  21. StillConfused,
    The difference is baptism is a saving ordinance, fasting is not even an ordinance.

  22. My recollection from when I was first in a bishopric in the mid 1980s is that the handbook at the time had an explicit policy at that time permitting proxy baptism for living people who could not be fully immersed for medical or mental health reasons. I did not keep my copy of the manual though (or at least cannot find it. Some who has access to prior manuals might check. It might be that the policy that then existed has gone the way of allowing non-member fathers to stand in the blessing circle for infants (at one time explicitly permitted) or healing rituals by women. Or my memory may be bad.

    The post assumes though that the FP has given us discretion what to do. There is precedent for proxy baptism, I would follow 2 but allow the boy to attend to watch. I have no problem with number 1.

  23. gst: I said it first! So there!

  24. #3 – The ordinance is symbolic, and it’s not required in this life of everyone. Barry’s situation simply isn’t exceptional, imo.

    #4 is out of the question; #2 would be acceptable to me if we didn’t do temple ordinances – but it’s not necessary, given our current doctrines and practices (and it would destroy a powerful opportunity to teach faith); #4 is . . . absurd.

  25. I would go with 1 or 2, but I also like SteveS’s suggestion (#14). Baptism is, afterall, symbolic. The spirit of it seems more important than the detail.
    It is LDS Church policy to accomodate for disabilities on a case-by-case basis, but my experience as a person with a disability is that this policy isn’t always practiced on the local level, because people are unable or unwilling to look at unusual solutions to difficult/odd problems, to “think outside the box.” If this were my child, and he truly wanted to be baptized, I would expect allowances to be made so it would be possible, even if that made some people uncomfortable. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our comfort for the comfort of someone else.

  26. Mommie Dearest says:

    My call? #2. It’s not common, but proxy ordinances are done for a living person who for a good reason cannot complete the ordinance themselves. The FP would be already familiar with the theory behind this solution.

    The only other solution would be to submerge the entire bubble, presumably the portable (and waterproof) one. You’d need a larger body of water than the stake center font for that. In fact, the logistics of this solution make the proxy-while-living logistics seem rather simple.

  27. Man, just baptize the danged Bubble Boy! He’s 12!

    This seems to be exactly the kind of Pharisaical nit-picking so condone in canon scripture, if you ask me. Look at the “rules” Jesus broke … the hemorraghing woman touching his hem, ox in the mire, associating with beggars and the IRS … I think we’re ignoring faith here and being quite stick-in-the-arse-y.

    I think this is a PERFECT illustration of what the outside world sees as logically inconsistent. If you’re gonna dunk me and endow me after death, whether I’m Bubble Boy or Qadaffi or just some Colonial-era woman who shares your last name that you found in a Family Search trawl, why bother with it in this life?

    It’s a real logical inconsistency, not satisfactorily given. If someone gains no utility in their life by doing these things, then you’ve turned the Cartesian bargain on its head. No more necessary the thought that maybe God will send you to Hell and so you should be good: like “heavenly bureaucracy” can be so efficient to sort out those who TRULY had the chance.

    It’s all so silly, and pointless, and makes me just roll my eyes. Look, a baptism in any religion, a bar mitzvah, an 8th-grade graduation, is about celebrating the kid, and their newfound accountability/mentschness/ability to go to high school. Don’t endanger a child’s life!! How do we even have to argue about this???

  28. Benjamin says:

    What exactly is there to stop a bishop from recommending to the First Presidency that the ordinance be declared completed despite it not being physically done? Are we really going to accept such a limited view of priesthood authority that we can’t allow Bubble Boy to enter covenants without the physical actions?

  29. If Barry would only have faith, he would leave the bubble to be baptized. He would have trust in the Lord, that nothing can harm him.

    If he would die as a consequence of him leaving the bubble, maybe his time on the earth was full and that was the will of God.

  30. I say #1. If that’s the boy’s first wish, and the FP says ok__ do it. The Church is for the man, not man for the Church.

  31. I want to hear more about these proxy baptisms for living people.

  32. (Trying to untangle the image of Bubble Boy in my head from memory of John Travolta movie. Failing.)

    Whatever the answer, we should be clear about what question it’s the answer to. Are we asking “Which of these solutions will God accept?” I don’t think so. Does anyone really think that, if the Area Authority Seventy picks X, in the afterlife God will say “Nope, sorry Bubble Boy! The correct answer was Y!”

    I hope that’s not the question we’re asking. I hope, and feel it’s important to make clear, that what we’re asking is “Which of these imperfect solutions would provide the right balance of doctrinal resonance and meaningfulness for those involved?”

  33. Regardless the decision will be, it is good to know that God will make things right in the end.

  34. Mark Brown says:

    I’ve personally witnessed two baptism where the person was not fully immersed and yet the ordinances were deemed valid. Both people were infirm and in wheelchairs, and several men lowered them and the wheelchair into the water, which hit them about waist-level In both cases, the bishop was afraid that full immersion might kill them.

    We used to live in a ward where one of the priests had a severe stutter. If the bishop had made him say the prayer on the sacrament over every time he made a mistake, he would have had to do it a hundred times. But he just did the best he could, and that was OK. Situations like this are where we really are saved by grace, after all we can do.

  35. Last Lemming says:

    As long as the 1st Presidency has punted (and it surprises me that they did), I would go with the boy’s preference and do #1. Some disapproving member will undoubtedly redo the ordinance after he is dead (with or without permission), so you’ve got #3 as a back-up.

    I don’t think Julie Smith’s suggestion is absurd, but the logistical nightmare is probably unnecessary.

  36. Is his bubble tight like unto a dish? If so, use heavy machinery to submerge the bubble in the ocean. As long as the bubble is totally immersed, so is he. But it has to be a worthy priesthood holder driving whatever machine does it.

  37. Also interested in details of proxy ordinances for the living.

    And evidence that the First Presidency would pass responsibliity for this decision to an area authority seventy. (If that were true, it suggests that the FP would accept all four alternatives.)

  38. StillConfused says:

    When someone is severely handicapped, such as severe mental retardation, I have heard that they do not need to be baptized. In that case, are baptisms done for the person after they are deceased or are they just not needed at all?

  39. #38: Those who are without accountability (for instance, because of lack of mental development) are without accountability and need no ordinances. They are as little children.

    That is, I suppose, a key issue in this case, since the boy in question is mentally capable of being accountable, so would not fall into that category.

  40. #3. Life is full of disappointment.

  41. I understand that in cases where a child may be disruptive to regular temple atmosphere (for example, a child with turrets), he or she may have a living proxy for a child-to-parent sealing.

  42. The bubble boy is faking it, or maybe he just lacks faith. There can’t be an immune system disorder that would prevent a saving ordinance. Why would our heavenly father do that to someone? After all he is our Father.

    FWIW, the real answer is #2.

  43. If it were #2, we could start doing baptisms for the living, and just forget about all that blatant missionary work!

    I’m thinking that #3 is the answer, however I wouldn’t think it past the First Presidency to allow #2. There’s no way they would approve #1 when other options are available.

    BTW, what if we just have him make out with Glynnis OConnor? It worked for John Travolta to leave his bubble!

  44. #1
    It seems to me that we go a little overboard on our obsession with full immersion. Nowhere do the scriptures say that a toe or hair floating up invalidates the ordinance. 3 Ne 11 just says you go into the water and come out. So bubble boy should just do the best he can with that.

  45. clarkgoble says:

    Sounds to me that this is the perfect situation to pass up the chain of command and let some GA decide.

    It’s interesting that while we are opposed to sprinkling my reading of the Didiche (dated by some to the 1st century) suggests it was originally done just for baptism in places where there was little water. Clearly Bubble Boy has access to some purified water. Simply cover him in that stuff as best as possible.

  46. clarkgoble says:

    Oh – missed the bit about the GAs passing it back down. Anyway I’d just pour as much of the purified water he drinks on him as is possible. Read the Didiche 7 to see that’s what they did out in the desert and which probably took on a life of its own and contaminated Catholic practice. (Probably akin to those times Mormons used potatoes for sacrament since they didn’t have bread and in some isolated community they decided you were supposed to use potatoes and not bread)

  47. In the case of the severely retarded, my understanding is that those are not accountable. So in that case they wouldn’t need to be proxy baptized, just as we don’t do proxy baptisms for children who die before reaching the age of accountability.

  48. The idea of allowing/requiring a proxy child to participate in place of a child with a disruptive disorder like turrets child-to-parent makes me sad. I guess if the parent and child felt this was necessary but still it makes me sad and feel discriminatory. I have a nephew that stutters, sometimes severly despite his best efforts and all the techniques he has been taught, turrets and stuttering are related disorders, it is hard to think that a child like him buy with a slightly more disturbing problem would be excluded not because of worthiness but because of a malfunction in his brain.

  49. The assumption that this boy is like a mentally handicapped person and therefore doesn’t need the ordinance doesn’t work for me. The boy is cognizant therefore accountable. Surely he has sinned and needs baptism in some form.

    2 makes the most sense to me of the options given, though I had the same thought as Julie (10). The directions say immersion, they don’t say the person has to get the least bit wet. Scuba dry-suit the boy up (in white of course).

  50. There are situations where a living individual for various reasons could not participate in a essential living saving ordinance. A female whose spouse would not consent to their baptism or temple ordinances (I’m not wanting to get into should it be this way or not discussion) a person who is converted but because of geograpy or place in time would prevent it. So I guess option two would be a possible option but I think that if the Lord is indeed mindful of even sparrows, that there is provision within the plan of salvation for every soul that has ever lived no matter how we decide is “best” to take care of it here and now.

  51. I wouldn’t do any of the four options.

    Rather than worry about the baptism, I would have him confirmed as a member of the Church with the understanding that it would all be redone by proxy after his death. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and the kid can presumably take the sacrament as a symbolic expression of covenant his whole life. He wouldn’t be able to go to the temple because he didn’t have the necessary preceding ordinance, but that wouldn’t happen anyway with him in a bubble and all. He wouldn’t receive the priesthood for the same reason, but he could be assigned different callings and roles much the same as blacks were before 1978.

    Of course it would be heartbreaking, but I truly believe that if he and his family had open hearts and weren’t set on getting things their way that the Spirit would compensate in large measure for the disappointments of this life. I’d remind them of the reward awaiting them in the hereafter, and would make sure that they got regular phone calls from President Monson or Elder Holland or someone to help them realize that the Church wishes that the kid could participate fully. And I’d say that if there came a miraculous cure for the condition, the Church would do all in its power to help the family afford the cure and get that kid into the water.

  52. dog lover says:

    I’d go w/ what the family wanted. I believe in the spirit of the law and not pointless rules. I have heard stories of 7 yr olds being baptized (baseball baptisms) and worse. It will all be worked out in the end. If the young man wants to be baptized, let him.

  53. Well, we all know Jesus would heal him so he could be baptized. That we rule that as out of the question does reveal a lack of faith in that possibility doesn’t it?

    So count me in the strong believer that in this case, a miracle would happen.

  54. Last Lemming says:

    On the subject of whether proxy work should be done for those over the age of 8 who were mentally handicapped, this is what the NewFamilySearch User’s Guide has to say on the subject (see page 254):

    Church members may perform ordinances for individuals who have been deceased for
    at least one year without regard to worthiness, mental ability, or cause of death.

    Only those who die before the age of 8 get a “Not Needed” designation in the program.

    This is relatively new. Shortly after our son with Down’s was born (mid-to-late 80s), we asked the SL temple matron whether his work would ever have to be done and she said “No”.

  55. #53 – No, we don’t – and, no, it doesn’t.

  56. #41: “I understand that in cases where a child may be disruptive to regular temple atmosphere (for example, a child with turrets), he or she may have a living proxy for a child-to-parent sealing.”

    I was going to say it but Dovie beat me to it (#48). While I’m all for flexibility and the solution #41 describes might be part of that, I hope that we don’t feel that it should be necessary for a case where a child has turrets. I don’t think we should consider such a child “disruptive to regular temple atmosphere.” The atmosphere is love, and I think we can honor that atmosphere by loving a child whose behavior is outside of average.

  57. Researcher says:

    “if there came a miraculous cure for the condition” (51)

    It’s my understanding that there is a miraculous cure for the condition, assuming we’re talking about severe aplastic anemia. A bone marrow transplant from a related donor is highly successful in curing this condition, and if that’s not an option for whatever reason, there are blood transfusions and chemotherapy.

    But that’s largely irrelevant to this theoretical discussion.

  58. Strangites do proxy administration for the sick when priesthood can’t travel to be with an ill member.

  59. #58

    Wouldn’t that be a little… strange… for the LDS Church?

  60. FYI, it’s Tourette, or Tourette’s syndrome/disorder.

    And I sure wish someone who claims that proxy work for the living under ANY condition has been or is being regularly authorized would point toward some reliable confirming source.

  61. Thanks Ardis typing on my phone often reveals my poor spelling abilities. I need a proxy speller.

  62. MCS (#59): I don’t mention it as a precedent for LDS canon law; I just mention it as a relevant, comparative practice that occurs within the broader Mormon tradition.

  63. Dovie, I will spell for you by proxy only after you have been deceased one year, and only after obtaining permission from your living family members.

  64. Ardis, as anxious as I am to have this important spelling work done in my behalf I would rather have it be done the right way.

  65. StillConfused says:

    In #46 the poster mentioned using potatoes for sacrament. That made me think of a tray of french fries being passed around. Put some orange soda in the cups and we would have a greater turnout for sacrament meeting.

  66. clarkgoble (46), I’m aware of potato peelings being used in a WWII German POW camp and in parts of Europe during the post-war famine. I also know of coconut meat and milk being used in the Tuamotus at times during the 20th century. In both cases it was because normal bread and water were not available, not because anybody decided they were *supposed* to use those alternate things. The Saints used D&C 27:2 (“For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory”) as their justification, and went back to bread and water when it was available again.

  67. #56: FWIW, our ward had a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome who regularly attended with us to do baptisms for the dead, even when his tics included involuntary use of profanity. He and his father (who attended with us) warned the staff and me (I was his bishop), and the boy did his best to disguise the tics when he could (for instance, by covering his mouth as if he were coughing). No one would have thought of excluding him.

  68. observer (fka eric s) says:

    This strikes me as the type of “much ado” that extend ward council meetings beyond the one hour mark. God is just: bubble boy gets a pass. Is the bishop (the church) *really* considering the option of being complicit in putting BB’s life at risk with #4? I can see the headline now: “Mormon’s believe in facilitating euthanasia of disabled” Number 1 isn’t baptism. I don’t really understand the point of doing option number 2, given that BB gets a pass.

  69. John, #62, I was only making a bad pun.

  70. If the FP doesn’t care, I don’t see what difference it makes. If Barry prefers #1, go with #1.

  71. #58: are there still Strangites out there? I thought they disbanded back in the day.

  72. #68: BB does not WANT a pass! He wants to be baptized. If #1 fills his Spirt, and it’s ok with the FP__ let him have it!

  73. I can’t think of a child who would be “reverent” (read silent) in the temple. The last child to parent sealing i attended had two beautiful and young girls (3 and 5). they were definitely impressed with the solemnity of the temple, but the beauty of the sealing room was a bit too much. Their OOOHHHHS and AAAAHHHS and MOMMY LOOK AT THAT LIGHT! sounded like praise to me.

    short of dipping all of BB in (just for the technical fun), I say do what works. sprinkle.

    My friend recently wrote asking for help with her 8yo daughter. She HATES getting her head wet. She really doesn’t want to get baptized. she is on the spectrum… what do you do?

  74. I agree with those that hold that Tourette’s syndrome should not be thought an intolerable intrusion on our temple worship. SHIT BITCH ASS.

  75. What about baptizing him in sterile water? He can’t catch anything from that. How does he normally clean himself?

    But I’m interested in #2. I’ve never heard of proxy for the living but I can see it being legit.

  76. I agree with those that hold that gst should be thought an intolerable intrusion on our temple worship. (we are many)

  77. GST, if you don’t want to have your comments censored by Dictator Stapley or Fascist Kristine, I recommend employing the ever-useful asterisk: SH*IT B*ITCH A*SS

  78. It seems to me that a boy with tourette’s syndrome would be unlikely learn much profanity if he were kept in a bubble from birth.

  79. Scott, on that point I refer you to the excellent movie “Blast from the Past,” about a couple that raise their son for 35 years in a bomb shelter, mistakenly believing that a nuclear holocaust has occurred and left the surface of the earth unsafe for habitation.

    The father Calvin remonstrates his wife for using a common profanity:

    Helen-Thomas-Webber! Maybe we have
    been down here a little too long!
    (to Adam)
    Please excuse her French.

    Shit is a French word?

    Yes, yes it is!

    It’s an archaic colloquialism, roughly

    Yes! That’s right!



    There is a pause, then:

    C’est bon, Monsieur.


  80. gst,
    You might say I’m overstating things a bit when I say that Blast From the Past is the best film ever to feature the talents of Brendan Frasier, Sissy Spacek, Alicia Silverstone, and Christopher Walken, but you would be wrong.

  81. #60 Ardis, you ask an excellent question in requesting a reliable confirming source on live proxy work.

    J. Stapley in #41 pretty much states the policy for live proxies in special cases for those with mental disabilities. It really is up to a coordinated discussion between the parents, temple presidency and local leaders to determine if a proxy is appropriate but they need to get FP approval in order to proceed. If you want confirmation then my suggestion would be to take the topic up with a member of your temple presidency as there is lower probability that your Bishop or Stake President would have dealt with such an edge case. And there is nothing in the current Church Handbooks of Instruction (1 or 2) that addresses this question.

    So, if proxy work is possible with prior approval for one type of edge case there is reason to believe that the saving ordinance would be equally available through proxy in this scenario. But again, only if the FP approves and I think a very compelling case would have to be made to gain that approval.

  82. Ardis, you’re kidding with your first comment, right?

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