Court upholds conviction of faith healing parents who let their daughter die

July 7, 2013

It appears to be a complex issue. Religious freedom is a constitutionally protected right in our country. There are those who do not believe in modern medicine as a religious principle. They believe God will cure their ill family members if they pray for a cure.

When a child has a serious or potentially fatal illness for which modern medicine has an absolute or potential cure, should it be criminal for faith healer parents to refuse medical treatment for their child? Faith healers’ religious beliefs may extend to concepts including death and the afterlife. They may believe that it is God’s place to determine who lives and dies and when.

Last Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided in one case that yes.

Upholding the convictions of two faith healer parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, without an organized religious affiliation who prayed and refused medical care while their 11 daughter died of undiagnosed diabetes on Easter Sunday of 2008, the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that despite legal protections for parental decision making in religious situations, in this case, the parents went too far.

The parents argued that they did not expect their daughter to die. However, two juries had already made factual findings that the parents were responsible for their daughter’s preventable death when they watched her grow weak until she could no longer eat, walk, or talk and nonetheless did not get her medical care, believing that going to the doctor is akin to worshipping an idol.

Wisconsin and more than a dozen other states protect parents who choose to refuse medical treatment for their children for religious reasons. However, some question the appropriateness of the religious exemptions.

According to Shawn Francis Peters of the University of Wisconsin, approximately a dozen children die every year of treatable illnesses when parents refuse medical care for them on religious grounds.

Read this Huffington Post article for more information on the subject.

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