29 Jan 2009

Investigators trying to determine what role religion might have played in death of toddler

CBS3 Philadelphia January 28, 2009

Police Investigate Northeast Phila. Boy's Death

reporting by Robin Rieger

Investigators are trying to determine what role religion might have played in the death of a young Northeast Philadelphia toddler.

Police recovered the body of a two-year-old inside a home in Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday evening.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate the child died of pneumonia, but investigators are now trying to determine if the boy was treated with any medication or if religious beliefs might have prevented his parents from seeking medical treatment for their son.

"We just don't know yet when this child became apparently ill enough for any reasonable human being in the situation the parents found him in to say 'wait a minute, I better get this child to a doctor' or whether it ever occurred to them that they should ever take the child to a doctor because they don't believe in medicine," Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham said.

The family reportedly belongs to the First Century Gospel Church; a spinoff of the Faith Tabernacle Church that preaches reliance on prayer, not medical care to cure illness.

"We'll do our very best to conclude this as quickly as the facts allow us to and then we'll make a determination whether criminal charges will be filed," Abraham explained.

The parents have other children at home who would be examined and interviewed by the Department of Human Services. DHS says child protective services laws do not define child abuse or neglect to include situations where parents withhold medical care because of religion.

"Clearly a parent has a right to pray, but they also have responsibilities as a parent to make sure their children get emergency care," Abraham said.

Abraham says she has prosecuted parents from time to time whose religious beliefs should have been subordinate to the child's welfare. Abraham says charges if filed in this case, could include endangering the welfare of a child or involuntary manslaughter or something else.

At this time no criminal charges have been filed and the investigation remains ongoing.

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