Madeline Neumann Died Because Her Parents Prayed Instead of Getting Help… Here’s the Irony May 18, 2009

Madeline Neumann Died Because Her Parents Prayed Instead of Getting Help… Here’s the Irony

11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann died over a year ago. She suffered from undiagnosed diabetes and didn’t have enough insulin in her body… she hadn’t even visited a doctor since the age of three. She drifted into a coma one night and soon died. Her parents never bothered to call a doctor — they just prayed. Why didn’t this work? According to the parents, “they didn’t have enough faith.”

Now their trial is underway.

And guess what happened 20 minutes into the opening statement from the prosecution?

Leilani Neumann, the mother, suffered a “physical and emotional breakdown” and needed — wait for it — medical attention.

Moments later her attorneys expressed concern, asking for a recess so they could get her some air. She appeared visibly weak as her husband and others escorted her from the courtroom to a downstairs office.

Judge Vincent Howard ordered court security to call 911 and have Neumann medically evaluated.

“She claimed she has no feeling in her arms and legs,” [defense attorney Gene] Linehan said, telling the judge Neumann could not participate in her defense in her current state.

The judge agreed to a recess, saying Neumann “needs a medical evaluation, not a judicial one, at least at this stage.”

About 30 minutes later Neumann was brought back to the courtroom in a wheelchair. Her attorney indicated she was going to be OK.

So when the mother needed medical help, she didn’t refuse it. She didn’t ask the judge to pray. She didn’t request a Bible. She accepted it and was back in half an hour.

But when her daughter needed it, the mother selfishly stuck to her religious beliefs.

Either she’s finally learned her lesson or Irony has a sadistic sense of humor.

Dave Mauriello, the Philadelphia Critical Thinking Examiner, puts it well:

… People’s prayer claims can be humored when it concerns finding lost keys or even if someone wants to endanger themselves and themselves only, but when it comes to endangering others, especially those in need of protection like children or elderly seniors, that prayer nonsense won’t be tolerated as a substitute for real solutions. Feel free to say a prayer as the needle goes in, though. Knock yourselves out.

If convicted of second-degree reckless homicide, Neumann faces up to 25 years in prison. Here’s hoping she gets the full sentence and sets a precedent for other families who inadvertently kill their children because of their strict adherence to faith.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sounds like she’s just totally undermined her own defense, unless she’s pleading insanity.

  • Larry Huffman

    If it was not so tragic it would be hysterically funny. But there is nothing to laugh at when someone dies…especially a child that could have easily been helped and given a mostly normal life…with medicine.

    No question…this woman killed her daughter. I hope she gets the maximum. I have no sympathy for anyone who puts their religious beliefs over the health of their child…people who adhere to some fairy-tale responsibility rather than the real and immediate responsibility of caring for your children. These people are disgusting.

  • lamb

    There’s something I don’t understand. These types of religious people believe that abortion is murder…so how come willful neglect of a real child that leads to death is fine?

  • H

    I don’t care what anyone says, this is worthy of the death penalty. Immediately.

    Let her go see God so she can stand next to her daughter at the Pearly Gates and explain herself.

  • Old Beezle

    They pray and their child dies. My xian brother prays to make his sales quota and he makes it. God is a Fucker…

    …oh, wait, He’s not real…it’s His so-called semi-primate children that are the real bastards.

  • It is so sad that magical thinking led to the death of someone in need when it could have been so easily avoided. Perhaps she is subconsciously punishing herself with this breakdown, I don’t know. Too little, too late though.

    However what would be the purpose served in sending the parents to prison? Rehabilitation? They are unlikely to act in the same way again I would sincerely hope. Retribution or punishment? To what end? Lessons to others? Perhaps but will anyone really pay attention to their own magical thinking? Protection? Does society need to be protected from them or do they need to be protected from themselves? Perhaps but then mental health treatment would be more appropriate.

  • Larry Huffman

    Hover…you ask a good question. The way I see it…it would be punishment. Everyone pays for their crimes. They are chrisitans, so they should understand that concept well, since they think we are bound to hell for not believing.

    There are people doing time for possising pot…people doing time for striking a child…so I see no problem putting someone away for 15-20 years for killing their child through neglect. At the very least it is equitable…since people who have done far less are serving time.

    There are other factors. If the law ignores this, that lets other would-be child-killing-christians think that their religious views are tolerated by our government…and they absolutely should not be. I feel no sympathy for someone for maiking them pay for something like this(allowing your own child) that their religion caused them to do. None at all. Let her go to prison. And if down the road some young couple decides to pick up the phone and call a doctor for fear of going to prision for 20 years if they do not…then it has saved another child and her time now has served a purpose.

    I am willing to let religion have a pass on much…so long as they do not try to shove it down my throat. But allowing children to die in this manner, in my opinion, shouldnot be tolerated.

  • Anthus Williams

    I think Mahatma Gandhi did this business too. When his wife got sick, the doctors recommended giving her medicine, and he wouldn’t allow it, because he said that whether or not she survived was according to God’s will.

    She died. Then, some time later, Gandhi himself got sick, and the doctors prescribed medicine, and he agreed to take it. He got better.

    I guess shit’s different when you’re in the driver’s seat.

  • littlejohn

    I have to disagree, at least a bit. I see no point in putting this unfortunate women in prison. Other worshipers of woo would simply regard her as a martyr. After all, she believes that stuff, so she didn’t deliberately kill anyone. If you accidently killed someone while doing what you thought was the proper thing, do you think you should go to prison? She should be discouraged from having more chlldren, though.

  • Sock

    I don’t think religion should matter at all in this case.

    It’s criminal child neglect, and should be treated as such. The message to be sent is that “God told me blah blah” doesn’t work as legal defense.

  • llewelly

    hoverFrog raises a good point. It’s common to assume that punitive imprisonment acts as a deterrent, but for some crimes, the evidence is rather weak. For this particular sort of crime – there is actually no evidence at all. It does seem that people often fail to consider (or to believe) the consequences of their actions when caught up in a religious fervor.

    Suppose another parent believes God requires them to pray rather than seek medical care for their child. If they truly believe the choice is between damnation and salvation, isn’t it possible they would see a mere earthly imprisonment – which is after all finite, and does not (usually) include torture, to be a small thing when compared to an eternity of torment in Hell? Or, if they do not believe in Hell (I can’t recall if the Church of Christ, ‘Scientist’ does), wouldn’t earthly imprisonment seem trivial when compared to the eternal rewards of salvation? But more importantly, in this particular cases, and many like it, the believers clearly believe they are not risking their child’s life, and therefor are not risking any resulting prison sentence.

  • plum grenville

    I find that collapse more than a little suspicious. Aside from the timing, if she had really suddenly lost all feeling in her limbs, wouldn’t that indicate some kind of neurological issue and wouldn’t the paramedics have urged her to go to a hospital for thorough testing? She might have been given that advice and rejected it, of course.

    The reason for putting her in jail really is to deter other potential wackaloons. I agree that she is likely to hang onto her beliefs in jail, so I don’t hold out strong hopes for rehabilitating her. And her co-religionists may not change their ways either in response to a guilty verdict.

    But that doesn’t mean that jailing her will have no effect. Persuading people one-on-one that they’re wrong about some deeply held religious belief is difficult and probably unsuccessful more often than not.

    However, the tactics that are tried in persuading individuals are not necessarily the same as the tactics which will have an effect on changing the zeitgeist, which is much more to the point. Punishment, official denunciation, public outcry, and ridicule can all play a role in making particular behaviours (and ultimately beliefs) socially unacceptable.

  • Larry Huffman

    A crime is a crime, however. I understand people wanting to give this woman sympathy…but I just cannot. To put belief over the well-being of your own child is criminal. Many parents who have done less are in prison today for it. The justice system must be just…not simply towards her…but towards all of the others who are already imprisoned.

    And…this form of deterrent is different. This is the government saying it will not tolerate child neglect based on religion. A stand I would hope we all would agree with. Letting her off would stand to show the opposite.

    This is not a simply criminal deterrent, it is a message to religion.

    As for this ‘poor woman’…give me a break. She allowed her own child to die. She should suffer the consequences as anyone else would.

    BTW…I am sure she would waste no time in telling all of us non-believers we will suffer eternally for simply not believing.

  • mikespeir

    I agree they didn’t have enough faith. There’s not enough faith to be had.

  • Cypress Green

    1. I am suspicious that even if the mother was legitamately ill, it all good with her attorney to get medical care. He probably thinks her ‘illness’ will garner more sympathy than getting help will provoke disgust by the jury. It’s in a defence lawyer’s best interest to make the client appear as respectable and sympathetic as possible.
    2. Mother Theresa was another ‘do as I say, not as I do’ person. For years she harped on how suffering was beautiful and how she planned to die just like those she ‘helped.’ But as her health disappeared, (on many occasions) she got the best of care from the finest doctors and hospitals. All the most advanced medical technology was used on her, with her knowledge. She had a pacemaker and heart surgery. She died in peace and relative comfort.

  • medussa

    Punishing these parents with jail time may not deter any other true believers, I agree. Nor will it change their minds, most likely.
    But at the very least, it will prevent them from pro-creating again, and raising their next child with the same sick belief system. And who knows, maybe they have other children already, who will be protected from these criminals?

  • I tell you, it’s a very selfish thing these religious nut job parents do. This one was very obvious.

  • anonymouse

    I agree with Larry Huffman.

    I would like to add that no child should be a victim of religion, especially in this way. Absolutely preventable death= negligent homicide, in my opinion.

  • jemand

    Peoples, there is a LEGITIMATE part of the justice system that is composed of PUNISHMENT.

    It doesn’t always have to be about “fixing” things or making the situation “ok” again or just deterring others blah blah blah.

    Sometimes, it IS about punishment and I am unapologetic about supporting legitimately punitive measures.

  • John Phillips, FCD

    If for no other reason, they deserve the punishment for the real suffering they put their daughter through, for the way the daughter died was a long way from painless. However, additionally, if found guilty, it marks their action as a definite crime and removes religion as a future excuse for doing nothing. It may not prevent any other wackaloons, whether the parent/guardian and/or witch doctor, doing it in future, but at least they will be aware that their delusion is not a valid defence.

  • ConstantNeophyte

    First off, littlejohn: She did deliberately kill someone, even if she didn’t think she was killing them. Whether or not you think you commit a crime is not relevant to whether or not a crime was committed.

    And, as for Anthus Williams, here is the wikipedia article on Gandhi’s wife.

  • mikespeir

    Sometimes, it IS about punishment and I am unapologetic about supporting legitimately punitive measures.

    Isn’t that how Christians respond, jemand, when we tick off the various legitimate purposes of punishment and point out that Hell serves none of them?

  • Alx-Nichole

    I’m so sick of hearing things like this.
    I was forced to take a religion course at my school called Death and Dying. The teacher taught us that we shouldn’t go to non-Catholic hospitals or non-Catholic doctors because they are not as good or caring as their Catholic counterparts. Also, she said many times that all the people had left was prayer. Some of the situations were similar to this one, but not as extreme. The fact that she supported this instead of supporting the medical treatment that could potentially save someone’s life is terrible.
    Rely on doctors, not imaginary friends.

  • Religious sentiment must not be allowed to endanger children. “Numbness and collapse” could be emotionally based. It’s important for other parents to see that depending on magic has consequences.

    I imagine the judge thought for a second of recommending prayer.

    Wasn’t Neumann the one who agreed to plead guilty as long as she could retract her plea if her daughter came back to life?

  • steve

    They have a link to your website on

    I found this site by doing a little researching in to those wacko’s that let their daughter die. I think David Elles of the Neumanns church ( should be charged too, as he was the moron that didn’t advise them to seek medical attention.

    I used to more accepting of these kinds of religious practices. However, the more I read and hear about, the more I think that there should be zero tolerance for these people. I’m all about freedom, and I don’t wish that anyone be stopped from doing what they please, but seriously, that was dumb. I know they would just fire back with a ‘medicine kills X amount of people per year’ argument, but I don’t think they can even fathom how many people it saves each year.

    Maybe this is an issue of poor education, and misinformation. I’ve never met the Neumanns, or David Elles, but I would guess that is the case. Whatever it is, it makes me sad that someones life was cut short for no reason at all.

    Lets hope the courts make a good decision, and show these people that neglect isn’t going to be tolerated for any reason.

    Neat blog.

  • Tony

    Mother convicted in prayer-death trial

    WAUSAU, Wis. – A mother accused of praying instead of seeking medical help for her dying 11-year-old daughter was found guilty Friday of second-degree reckless homicide.

    A Marathon County jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting Leilani Neumann, 41, of rural Weston, of second-degree reckless homicide. The crime is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. No sentencing date was set and Neumann remained free on bond.

  • Evolve

    Believe what you wish, but this one fact will ALWAYS rule…

    Stupid People Fade Away.

  • ZombieGirl

    Tie her tubes!!!!!!

    Of course that statement alone sounds like I’m ignoring how tragic this story is, but I’m not. We all know that this story is extremely unfair and saddening.

  • Alwa

    I just saw a picture of the poor girl playing in the playground. How very sad this story is. Of course, now both parents have been convicted of second-degree reckless homicide. I just don’t see the point of locking them up until they are over retirement age. However misguided and crazy are their beliefs (the mother apparently continued to believe her daughter could be resurrected for some time after her death) don’t you think they are suffering terribly from this? It’s not as if they wanted her to die. And believe me, you aren’t going to convince others to abandon their own crazy beliefs by throwing the book at these two. They are likely to see this only as religious persecution. And we ought not give in to our own base desire for retribution. We need to be more tolerant of others’ shortcomings even if they lead to such tragic consequences. I’m sure this little girl loved her parents and knew they were doing what they thought was best. I doubt she would want to see them punished. I on the other hand do feel they ought to serve a prison sentence but I cannot in good conscience advocate for 25 years. Something much shorter is in order I think. This story is tragic enough without having to add to it by punishing so harshly these wretched and misguided people.

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