Eleven-year-old Madeline Neumann, “Kara” to her parents, was very ill, but her parents, Dale and Leilani, didn’t take her to see a doctor. In fact, Kara had not seen a doctor since she was three years old. Dale believed that her illness was a test of faith, and Leilani believed that Kara was under spiritual attack. So they prayed. They read the bible and believed it when it said healing comes from God. Kara died, in her home in Weston, Wisconsin, last Easter Sunday.
Her body was taken to the Emergency Room at St Clare’s hospital in Weston, where Medical Examiner John Larson asked them about funeral arrangements.
We won’t need one,” was the reply. “She will be alive tomorrow.”
The autopsy determined that Kara had been killed, not by evil spirits, but by diabetes, a potentially life-threatening condition that can be controlled if it is diagnosed. She probably had the symptoms for weeks or months before her death, and in the 48 hours before her death she probably could not speak, eat, drink, walk or breathe well.
The Neumanns have both been charged with second-degree reckless homicide. Their attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the charges as “unconstitutionally vague” as it applies to the allegations in the complaint. They also contend that the charges unconstitutionally infringe on their right to freely exercise their religion.
And they may get away with it. Incredibly, Wisconsin and 40 other states in the union have a clause in their criminal code explicitly exempting parents who abuse or neglect their children or forego medical treatment in favor of prayer, where they do so on grounds of their religion. The exemption does not apply to homicide, but it may be difficult to prove the charge.
Shortly before Kara died, a University of Wisconsin history professor published a book chronicling the history of abuse and neglect by well-meaning but ignorant religious parents. “When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law” by Shawn Francis Peters uses court records, police and medical reports, and newspaper archives to document the history of religion-based neglect. In a recent interview with a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper he said:
Asked about the Neumann case, he said:
He also claims that Dale, Kara’s father, looked up Kara’s symptoms on the web.
According to Peters, losing a child doesn’t necessarily shake a medicine-rejecting parent out of his delusion:
On the authorities failure to do anything to help children in Kara’s position despite many earlier cases, he says:
Is there a solution? Peters is not sure:
Peters had a lot more to say and the interested reader should consult the link below, “Healing or homicide”. It is hard for me to resist the urge to say that Wisconsin and all US states should immediately abolish these insane and pointless loopholes in their law. In fact, I see no reason why I should resist it. These people really do have to be dragged out of their personal hell and into the twenty-first century, or else lose their at-risk children, preferably before those children’s lives are put in danger.
- Death by prayer – Isthmus, Madison, August 8, 2008
- Healing or homicide? The use of prayer to treat sick children – The Capital Times, Madison, August 13, 2008
- Father renews call to dismiss homicide charge – Associated Press, September 2, 2008