Faith-Based Homicide March 31, 2008

Faith-Based Homicide

The tragic story of Madeline Kara Neumann never needed to happen. She’s the 11-year-old girl who needed medical help for her ketoacidosis but got prayer instead. Thanks to her ignorant parents, she’s dead.


Charges against the parents are pending.

The girl’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to “apparently they didn’t have enough faith,” the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing “was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray,” he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

I’ve read some reports that say Madeline’s three siblings are staying with relatives while other say they are still in their parents’ custody. The police chief Dan Vergin has previous said this about the siblings:

“They are still in the home,” he said. “There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.”

Which is absurd. When religious belief turns into preventable homicide, it’s abuse. The kids need to be protected from the parents, who knew what had to be done (calling the doctors) but chose otherwise.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has put out a release that calls for Wisconsin legislators to “remove from the statutes its exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.”

It’s one thing for an adult to choose prayer over medicine. But it is sheer child sacrifice to permit parents to eschew medical diagnosis and treatment of ill offspring. Parents do not own their children, much less have the right to endanger their children’s lives by callously disregarding medical needs in the name of religion.

Their “best” was not good enough. Nor is the religious exemption provided for by Wisconsin statutes, similar to what many states have adopted under pressure of the Christian Science lobby. What they don’t realize is that doing nothing to help their daughter is parental negligence, which is criminal. The parents can still be charged, at least with some form of negligence or child abuse. But more action is required.

As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its callous exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.

That exemption refers to the part of the WI statutes that defines various types of abuse (PDF). The part in question says this:

EXCEPTION. Nothing in this section may be construed to mean that an individual at risk is abused solely because he or she consistently relies upon treatment by spiritual means through prayer for healing, in lieu of medical care, in accordance with his or her religious tradition.

That exception is what may get Madeline’s parents off the hook.

They need to face the consequences for what they’ve done. And the state needs to use the Neumanns as an example — to show others that needless negligence in the name of religion will be prosecuted.

(Thanks to everyone who sent links to this story.)

[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian Science[/tags]

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  • Becky

    The part of the article which strikes me as odd, is the part which reads: ‘The family does not attend an organized church or participate in an organized religion, Vergin said. “They have a little Bible study of a few people.”‘

    This makes them (obviously) no less crazy, just very unusual. Maybe not though, the article did say she was pulled from public school, or something to that effect. Perhaps her parents were just paranoid recluses. Either way, for them (the authorities) to think that no child abuse is going on is simply ludicrous.

  • jedipunk

    Here’s another
    OREGON CITY — A couple whose church preaches against medical care are facing criminal charges after their young daughter died of an infection that authorities said went untreated.
    Carl and Raylene Worthington were indicted Friday on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter Ava. They belong to the Followers of Christ Church, whose members have a history of treating gravely ill children only with prayer.
    Ava died March 2 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. The state medical examiner’s office has said she could have been treated with antibiotics.
    Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner, said the child’s breathing was further hampered by a benign cyst on her neck that had never been medically addressed, The Oregonian reported.
    Laws passed in the 1990s struck down legal shields for faith-healing parents after the deaths of several children whose parents were members of the fundamentalist church.

  • Karen

    This makes them (obviously) no less crazy, just very unusual.

    Actually I would say it makes them much more dangerous. Very extreme sects tend to appeal only to very small groups, and they tend to operate more or less underground. Whenever I hear someone’s involved in a church offshoot or a home church or a cell group, I’m more likely to wonder if they’re into something really kooky.

    Not all house churches are extreme or goofy, I realize. But they are more likely to hold fringe beliefs that appeal only to fringe believers.

  • SGU 5X5 (3/23/08) (5 mins with 5 Skeptics) did a peice on the Oregon 15 month old girl.

  • Jason

    This just makes me want to shake my head. It also hits close to home – my 8 year old son had the onset of Type 1 Diabetes just a couple months ago and went through the same symptoms this girl experienced. Ketoacidosis is so easy to diagnose after you’ve seen it once – but it was the scariest thing in the world seeing my son sick like that.

    So while I’m an atheist and my wife is Catholic, I’m glad I didn’t have to fight any refusal of medical care with my wife. If I was to ever meet these parents, I’d probably ask them where God was in intelligently designing their daughter’s pancreas.

  • The same thing happened in Pennsylvania a few years ago. One of the Nixon’s children died of an ear infection. A few years later an older child died just like this poor child did.

    Besides being a completely senseless death, ketoacidosis is a painful way to die.

  • Darryl

    This points out one of those crazy paradoxes that fundamentalist Christians get into: they want to prevent parents from aborting unborn children but enable them to kill them through medical neglect in the name of religion.

  • They did take the other kids. Linky

    WAUSAU, Wis. – Three siblings of a Weston girl who died from untreated diabetes as her parents prayed for healing instead of taking her to a doctor have been removed from the home to stay with other relatives, police said Friday.

  • Susan

    I have a fantasy about beating these parents with a baseball bat and then let them pray to heal. Sorry.

  • You know, I just love these people who say “apparently they didn’t have enough faith” so God killed … them? No, their child. Is the guy who kills your family if you don’t do what he says, fast enough and well enough, EVER the good guy?

  • julie marie

    I really don’t understand this. Not with your kids. There is nothing in my life more important to me than my son. To let him suffer AT ALL when there is an alternative–its unthinkable.

    The Ridger, I agree with you – this belief system makes God into a monster. Its absolutely tragic. Abuse? I don’t know enough about the law to speak on that, but definitely neglecting parental duties. Their other children need complete physicals and close supervision, if they haven’t already been taken into protective custody. These parents belief system has rendered them incompetent.

    I’m still reeling from this. I’ve worked in health care for 15 years now, and the only similar thing I’ve dealt with is the Christian Scientists–which is frustrating enough. But to die from a simple infection, or undiagnosed diabetes…I just can’t believe it.

  • Richard Wade

    I wonder if these parents will pray and pray when they get a really bad toothache or just sneak off to a dentist.

  • They basically sacrificed their child to their God as an offering. They actually did what they probably heard over and over in church. Put God first. So they were merely being good Christians and following church teachings. Too bad their parents weren’t also good Christians.

  • The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.

    That quote there says it all. This is not just Christianity, it’s full-on insane.

  • Joel

    Christ Himself had no problem with the sick going to a physician.

    Matthew 9:12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” New Living Translation

    Christ was using this analogy to make another point, but the fact remains that His statement is a testament to His approval to seeking medical help.

    The act committed by this couple is inexcusable and reprehensible.
    They should be tried for murder.

    Disclosure – I am a Christian

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