A manslaughter indictment in Oregon shows that slow progress is being made.
Yesterday I wrote about the tragic death of Kara Neumann, aged 11, in Weston, Wisconsin on Easter Sunday. Her parents had not taken her to see a doctor since the age of 3, because the bible told them that God will heal the sick if you pray. She died, not from evil spirits as her parents believed, but from diabetes, a treatable condition if it is diagnosed. Contrary to her parents’ expectations even as her corpse lay on a hospital bed, she was not resurrected by the power of prayer. Because of “faith healing” exceptions to Wisconsin’s child abuse and neglect statutes, Kara’s parents cannot be charged with those crimes, so the state has taken the only other course open to them: they have been charged with second degree murder, a charge which is unlikely to stick. By the way, this happened on Easter Sunday 2008, not 1808. Those shocking exceptions, which explicitly place children in danger from ignorant and foolish parents, are still on the statute book in Wisconsin, and similar exceptions exist in most other states of the union.
I am astounded to find that the case of Kara Neumann is not an isolated one. Three weeks to the day before Kara died, 15-month-old Ava Worthington, of Oregon City, Oregon, died of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, all curable, because instead of consulting a doctor her parents prayed. There is a difference, however. In 1998 11-year-old Bo Philips in Oregon died from diabetes, the same condition that killed Kara, while his parents prayed over him. The Oregon state medical examiner said this was the third such case in a year in the same religious community. A local newspaper investigated the community and found some 78 cases of deaths of children, going back to the 1950s. The state medical examiner determined that some 25 had died because their parents had chosen prayer instead of medicine. The state did not prosecute because of “faith healing” exemptions like the ones still existing in Oregon.
In 1999 the Oregon state legislature closed those loopholes pertaining to the charges of murder, manslaughter and child abuse after the 20/20 documentary series gave the scandal national exposure. So now Ava Worthington’s parents have been charged with manslaughter and there is a realistic chance that the trial, set for January, 2009, will secure a conviction.
Progress is being made, but it seems the cost of that progress is the deaths of children due to religiously-motivated neglect and abuse.