30 Mar 2008

Law Sanctifies Child Homicide in Name of Faith

Freedom From Religion Foundation

March 28, 2008

Memorialize 11-Year-Old Madeline by Removing Faith Exemption

As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.

Statement by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Presidents

The death of an 11-year-old child from illness is always tragic, but what puts Madeline Kara Neumann's death last Sunday in a different class is that it is unforgiveable. Madeleine's long descent into diabetic ketoacidosis was unnecessary, preventable and the result of willful negligence on the part of her bible-believing parents.

It's one thing for an adult to choose prayer over medicine. But it is sheer child sacrifice to permit parents to eschew medical diagnosis and treatment of ill offspring. Parents do not own their children, much less have the right to endanger their children's lives by callously disregarding medical needs in the name of religion.

What's even more appalling is the ambivalent reaction: "Ethicists say case unclear," reports the Wausau Daily Herald. The Herald quoted bioethicist Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin Medical school warning that it's important not to be moralistic or pass judgment on parents who think they can heal a child through prayer: "They believe they're helping their child; they love their child, and they believe prayer has an effect."

However deluded the parents may be, the rest of us need not countenance or indulge that dangerous delusion.

Dean Zuleger, the administrator of the Village of Weston, was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying, "There is a general sense of grief and sadness. Because I know the family a bit, there is a great deal of concern for their well-being." The parents' well-being?

"Death draws out difficult issues" read a headline in the Journal Sentinel. While Madeline's drawn-out death, involving nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, weight loss and weakness, is very difficult to read about, there is nothing difficult at all about deciding where the blame lies. "The prayer of faith will heal the sick," according to James 5:15. The fault lies in society's laudatory attitude toward a "holy book" which teaches superstition and faith-healing, whose passages are latched onto by bible literalists, and whose obedience to such injunctions has been given a pass in the criminal statutes of many states.

The mother, Leilani Neumann, of Weston, Wis., publicly announced: "We need healing. We are going through the healing process." What about the healing process her daughter required? This helpless dependent of a middle-class family had last seen a doctor at the age of three, and recently had been pulled out of public schools for religious home-schooling, possibly to cover up symptoms of her illness, which, according to medical experts, would have surfaced at least six months ago.

Legally, the question will revolve over whether the family recognized the seriousness of the illness. A chronology has emerged which belies the family's claim that they did not realize how sick Madeline was, including logs of their calls around the country to relatives (who notified authorities just before her death that Madeline was seriously ill) and to David Eels, whose Unleavened Bread Ministries operates AmericasLastDays.com. Eels, of Pensacola, Fla., admitted he prayed for Madeline the day before she died, and that the family phoned him Sunday, as they followed an ambulance with their dead daughter to the hospital, asking him "if I would pray that the Lord would spare her and raise her up, which I did."

Leilani Neumann told reporters she and her husband are not worried about an investigation because "our lives are in God's hands. We know we did not do anything criminal. We know we did the best for our daughter we knew how to do."

Their "best" was not good enough. Nor is the religious exemption provided for by Wisconsin statutes, similar to what many states have adopted under pressure of the Christian Science lobby. What they don't realize is that doing nothing to help their daughter is parental negligence, which is criminal. The parents can still be charged, at least with some form of negligence or child abuse. But more action is required.

As a memorial to the painful, frightening and needless death of Madeline Kara Neumann, the Wisconsin Legislature needs to finally show some gumption, and remove from the statutes its callous exemption sanctifying child homicide in the name of faith.

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1 comment:

  1. I've written pretty extensively on the legal and ethical issues raised by these kinds of cases. And, since I'm based at UW-Madison, I've commented on the Neumann case specifically in a number of different forums (including CNN).

    I won't drone on here, but if you're interested in learning more, you might check out my "Religious Convictions" blog at: