It’s chilling: this report in the January 20 New York Times details the death of an 11-year-old girl, Kara Neumann, who died from diabetes because her parents refused medical care, believing that prayer would heal her. They are going on trial next week.
But what is even more chilling are these two facts (verbatim from the article):
1. About 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, said Rita Swan, executive director of Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty, a group based in Iowa that advocates punishment for parents who do not seek medical help when their children need it.
2. Criminal codes in 30 states, including Wisconsin, provide some form of protection for practitioners of faith healing in cases of child neglect and other matters, protection that Ms. Swan’s group opposes. (See Wendell’s comment below for an explanation of how this works in Tennessee.)
I’m not sure exactly what “forms of protection” are involved here, but any protection is too much. So it’s ok to kill your kid by withholding treatment, but not through more intentional abuse? One child dead is too many; three hundred is a national tragedy. (The Times describes several other horrifying cases.) This would not have happened in a secular society, for there would be no reason to withhold medical care.
As Steven Weinberg said in a quote I gave yesterday: “for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”
If you’d like to read more about this issue, The Times mentions this book by Shawn Peters: When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children and the Law (Oxford, 2007).