I am not a religious person. Anyone who knows me is aware of this. However when someone makes an irrational decision based either in entirety or in plurality on their religious beliefs, I become visibly and justifiably angered.
Such was the case last year when I, like much of the rest of the nation, learned of the death of 11 year-old Madeline Kara Neumann. I became visibly angered reading of this case to the point where I was shedding tears reading about it — because I know she’s not alone.
Madeline died from juvenile onset diabetes. It is relatively easy to bring under control, but it requires medical attention to do so. Madeline’s parents refused to seek medical treatment for her on account of their religious beliefs. This was the frustrating part: Madeline had no say in whether she would be taken to the ER. The medical attention she desperately needed and her body visibly craved was withheld because her parents felt it would go against their religious beliefs.
Madeline’s parents were charged with “reckless homicide” with her death. Her mother, Leilani Neumann, was convicted in May, and her father’s fate is currently before a jury.
I’ve encountered quite a number of cases of children who’ve died because their religiously-motivated parents refused to seek medical attention. In all of the cases I’ve read, the most common cause of death is…. juvenile onset diabetes.
Madeline’s case overshadowed the case of 15 month old Ava Worthington of Oregon City, Oregon, who died March 2, 2008, from complications of pneumonia along with a blood infection. Ava’s parents were charged with her death, but were acquitted.
Oregon faced some major embarrassment in 1998 when an investigation revealed that hundreds of children, if not more, had died due to religious exemption laws. Most of the offenders in Oregon belonged to the Followers of Christ Church, of which Ava Worthington parents’ were members. In light of this, Oregon’s state legislature acted quickly to remove “religion defense” from its books, as with that defense in place, Oregon was near-powerless to act on hundreds of cases they had discovered. Had they acted, it would’ve resulted in the waste of a lot of taxpayer dollars on a lot of cases that would’ve knowingly resulted in acquittal.
What prompted the investigation? The death of an 11 year-old child from… juvenile onset diabetes.
Along with Followers of Christ, other churches and religious organizations have been implicated in the deaths of other children. I’ve seen one popular religious organization labeled as the worse offender in this regard: the First Church of Christ, Scientist, also known as Christian Science. They actually run hospices where your only medicine is prayer. Look up the case of 12 year-old Elizabeth Ashley King to learn how good those places are.
So if Oregon had closed the loopholes in 1998, how was it that Ava’s parents were acquitted? After all, the Worthingtons were legally prohibited from offering their religious beliefs as an affirmative defense. What happened? The jury sympathized with the parents.
Oregon corrected their problem. Unfortunately, legislative response is not enough, as Oregon has also shown. The only thing a legislative response can do is ensure that those charged with letting their children die will have one less defense. So what needs to happen to prevent on a further scale tragedies like Ava and Madeline?
For those of you who are religious who happen to be reading this, no I’m not so atheistic extremist that I want to see religion outlawed. Only certain aspects of religion need to go, and the parents need to understand that medical attention is necessary in certain situations. It can even be phrased in a religious context: God has already given us the ability to heal your children, so you don’t need to ask Him for help when help is literally a phone call away.
It’s similar to another anecdote I’ve seen others use as an analogy in regard to Madeline’s case. A man was trapped on his home while flood waters were rising around him. Three times rescue was attempted, and three times he turned everyone away, saying, “Don’t worry. God will help me.” When the waters become too much and he drowns, he asks God, “Why did you not help me?” God replies, “I tried three times to help you, and you three times said No.”
In one episode of Futurama, “God” tells Bender something similar to this: a God who has too much influence will cause his creation to become dependent upon him, whereas one who does too little will have a creation of non-believers. Only a gentle touch is needed. And any believer should recognize that it is only this gentle touch that is given, meaning God will not give you what you can already obtain on your own.
Now many have said that these cases fall within a person’s religious freedoms, that if a parent’s religion commands that they pray instead of seeking medical help, then it is not only their freedom to do so, it is their duty. Thankfully the Courts have disagreed in States where religion cannot be used as a defense to child neglect or negligent homicide charges. Unfortunately too many States still have such laws on the books, and they need to be repealed.
Your religious freedom ends where another person’s right to live begins. You do not have the right to compromise the health of your child by refusing to seek medical attention simply because your religion commands it. As the number of cases of which I’ve read, along with the number of cases Oregon authorities discovered in 1998 can attest, prayer does not work!!! If it did, Madeline, Ava, and thousands of other children would still be alive!
Links and References:
- Massachusetts Citizens for Children – A nonprofit organization who advocates against child neglect and abuse, including religiously-motivated medical neglect
- Childrens Healthcare is a Legal Duty (CHILD) – a Sioux City, IA, based nonprofit seeking the repeal of religious exemption laws nationwide, including at the federal level