When faith kills: part 1, Kara Neumann

“It’s like Jonestown in slow motion” -Shawn Francis Peters

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:

“Most people believe in the power of prayer. But most people also believe that medicine can and should complement prayer. And most people do not believe that young children should be allowed to die because their parents refuse to seek medical treatment. Yet, there has been a pattern over and over again of children dying from these kinds of cases. It shows the persistence of healing practices, and the difficulties society and laws have trying to regulate them. We’re so attached to the principle of religious liberty, we’re reluctant to apply manslaughter and abuse laws.”

Asked about the Neumann case, he said:

“Wisconsin is pretty average. Often times, individuals who live in these communities isolate themselves to protect their beliefs and practices from public scrutiny. Many of these people tend to live in rural areas with few neighbors and home-school their children, like Kara. … And so the possibility of a teacher or someone else reporting a problem is diminished. Often, their children die from untreated illnesses and are simply buried in some church graveyards. So the cases we know about are just the tip of the iceberg. Many members do not report the true cause and numbers of these deaths. The only way we find out about them is if word leaks out, or a relative calls the authorities, which is what happened in the Neumann case.”

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:

“When I started working on my book, I thought there would be lots of people who would lose their kids, and then they would have a revelation. But actually, that’s the exception rather than the rule. There have been parents who have had multiple children die. You would think that would be a transformative experience and shake their faith, but for lots of people, the opposite happens. It only reinforces their beliefs. What they will articulate is that God’s plan for Kara was to pass away, they were powerless, and why would they have any regret about God’s plan? Many of these people believe their children have left the corrupting Earth for a better place.”

On the authorities failure to do anything to help children in Kara’s position despite many earlier cases, he says:

“I don’t know why the child welfare advocates aren’t addressing this, or why there is not more public outrage. Maybe there’s not enough momentum; it’s like Jonestown in slow motion. There’s scattered cases in Wisconsin, but not a big flurry like in other states. I had really hoped that just from embarrassment, the legislators might lurch into action like some other states. But I guess our local politicians are more focused on important issues, like whether or not to keep the state plaid tartan.

Is there a solution?  Peters is not sure:

“I don’t know. Right now, there’s no dialogue about the relationship between faith and medicine between devoutly religious individuals, law enforcement and authority, and regular people who believe in secular laws. America’s view of how to resolve these problems is to pass a law and enforce it, but courtrooms are terrible places to resolve these kinds of intractable problems. It is possible for religious beliefs to evolve and change — for individuals who are faith healers to adopt a different view of the world — but it will not happen in a really adversarial context. You can’t just say to these people, ‘You’re an idiot. You killed your own child.’ I mean, they can say and will say that people die in hospitals every day. We have imperfect medicine and we have imperfect faith, so why persecute the faith healers and not the doctors?

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.

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2 Responses

  1. […] I wrote about the tragic death of Kara Neumann, aged 11, in Weston, Wisconsin on Easter Sunday.  Her parents had […]

  2. There are simply not enough intelligent people that are able to process and understand the information that is provided and the ones that are somehow get distracted by something thinking not that this is a far more crucial issue:)

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