Friday, September 16, 2011

Religiously Motivated Medical Deaths Among Children

There is a tension between competing rights in cases that involve faith-based medical treatments. The First Amendment declares religious liberty and the states' duty to protect the welfare of children are competing issues. As advances in medicine evolved into an accepted science, claims of religious liberties became more prominent. With time, public views on the matter have supported that the courts are the place to solve such matters; particularly when they result in the death of a child. Subsequently, the court has become the foundation on which these tensions are resolved, or in many states, unresolved. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 30 states have specific exemption laws that permit parents to allow their children to die if they were using prayer as treatment. You don't need to have a criminal justice degree to understand the complications that this controversial topic has caused within the legal system of America.

Although public consensus seems to favor decisions of the courts to punish these parents, there are many places in the United States where the laws simply do not support that opinion. This is a cause for concern in the state of Idaho where two children have recently died as a result of faith-based healing beliefs.

In fact, according to an online article from the KATU by Dan Tilkin, in March of 2011, two very sick children died in Caldwell, Idaho. The children were from two separate families and likely died from pneumonia, although the medical examiner is not sure since they were never actually taken to a doctor. The article stated that “for more than 99 percent of the community of Idaho, not taking their children to a doctor when he or she is sick could be considered a crime.” For one group, however, it is perfectly legal in Idaho for parents to choose prayer as treatment for sick children, even if they are gravely ill. If the child dies, the parents are not prosecuted. Idaho is not the only state that has been in the news for children falling victim to their family's belief system.

The same issue surfaced in Oregon in 1998. Reports from an Oregon newspaper reported that of 78 children buried in the Followers of Christ church graveyard, 21 most likely would have lived with medical treatment; something as simple as a prescription for antibiotics. The cemetery may represent one of the biggest concentrations of faith-healing related fatalities in decades.

However, the laws are changing in Oregon. In the past two years, Oregon has prosecuted two couples for failing to provide medical care for dying children. Two other couples are currently awaiting trial for criminal mistreatment and second-degree manslaughter. It has taken decades, but the state is finally addressing the issue of neglect among faith-healing parents. Both prosecutors and lawmakers endorsed a bill on Feb. 21, 2011 that removes special protections for parents who use faith-healing instead of providing medical treatment for their children. The bill was a response to the aforementioned Followers of Christ, an Oregon church with a long history of children dying from treatable medical conditions. On March 10, 2011, the bill passed unanimously.

To have children die needlessly in a society that has become so medically advance seems counterproductive. Although we do have religious freedom and the right to choose, many of these children do not have the mental capacity or the ability to choose for themselves. They can make that choice as adults. Meanwhile states should protect these children just as they protect the lives of every other resident of the state. All in all, its important to be respectful to a group's religious beliefs, but when it can become a danger to an individual or members of society sometimes actions must be made.


  1. That was a great article by Tilkin. I was surprised it got less than a hundred comments. People are so blind by what is happening to our children. I think if it's against the law to hit a child, and that's a good thing, abuse them in any way physically then it should also be against the law not to seek medical attention when one is very ill. Parents or those respinsible for their care should be prosecuted. The children with pneumonia could have been saved!

    What is the status of the laws now? I do think religious freedom is right, but to use religion to not give medical care to children is wrong. Are they even trying natures remedies to help the ill, or just using prayer?

  2. I am sickened by this and outraged! How can children have a choice when they have no voice, These people can murder them,lie and say they were sick or whatever they want, and not have a coroner look at the bodies. They CAN and DO get away with murder. THIS MUST STOP! If you are an adult, yes you can make choices for yourself, but a child with no voice, must have someone stand up for them to do the right thing. I would also like to know if any laws have been changed in Idaho. Devil worshipers take better care of their children than these followers!