August 09, 2008

Fundamentalist Child Murder: When Religion is Homicidal Mania

We just do whatever the voices tell us to do.A story in the Madison, WI Isthmus recounts the case of Madeline Neumann, a child unfortunate enough to have been born to a couple of very, very stupid and deluded parents who refused to get her medical treatment as she died a slow and excruciating death from an easily treated condition. They instead decided to go with witchcraft, seeking to invoke supernatural spooks and fairy tales to heal her. 40 out of 50 US states have laws that allow parents to do this because it protects the faith that they then proceed to inflict upon the innocent.

Death by prayer
by Erik Gunn

...In the days, perhaps weeks, before their daughter died of diabetic ketoacidosis — an illness authorities contend could have been readily treated — Dale and Leilani Neumann refused to seek medical care. They did so despite the girl's worsening condition and despite the urging of family members and friends. Instead, they insisted her body was a battleground in a spiritual war between Jesus Christ and the forces of Hell. Only by resisting worldly medicine, they believed, could she be saved...

Wisconsin law, like that of as many as 40 other states, carries an explicit exemption from prosecution for child abuse or neglect for parents who forgo medical treatment for their children on religious grounds and instead seek "treatment...through prayer..."

The Neumanns were readers of and occasional contributors to a website called Unleavened Bread Ministries ( The banner across its top proclaims, "Warning: These are America's Last Days."

Unleavened Bread Ministries is operated by David Eells, a self-appointed preacher in Pensacola, Fla. It's filled with predictions of impending apocalypse and assertions that people can be healed of illness through faith and prayer. One page features 63 separate testimonials to miraculous cures ranging from cancer and birth defects to hay fever and "uneven tire wear" on a car..."

Det. Sgt. Dennis Halkoski asked if the family ever thought about taking their daughter to the doctor. "No," Leilani replied. "We just thought it was a spiritual attack and we prayed for her." When her husband suggested getting medical care, "I said, the Lord's going to heal her, and we continued to pray."

A search of the Neumann home that evening showed the couple had sought emergency help — just not from a doctor. The day before the girl died, Dale Neumann had emailed David Eells' website seeking the preacher's direct number: "We need agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength," the message pleaded.

The reply, though not from Eells, was in the form of a prayer, which read in part: "We thank You Father for giving Dale and Leilani the faith to hold fast to the confession of their hope that it waver not, for it is Your will Father that Kara was already healed, I Peter 2:24. We add faith to Dale's and Leilani's and command Kara to be healed. We command that spirit of infirmity to loose Kara now, leave her body, leave her home, and go back from where it came and stay there...."
Faith in action: Why rely on modern medicine when surely Quetzalcoatl will respond to the offer of a human heart or two?  BELIEVE!So these primitivists murmured to an ancient Near Eastern sky-god who — surprise, surprise — didn't show up, and their kid died. She died over the course of days, perhaps weeks. She died slowly, terribly and unnecessarily. It would have been kinder of the oh-so-pious Neumanns if they had simply put a pillow over her face and had done with it. They could have prayed for DA LAWD to obviate Madeline's need for oxygen as she struggled and thrashed beneath the weight of this self-created test of their faith. The outcome would have been exactly the same.

Laws in many states that effectively shift the responsibility for acts such as that perpetrated by homicidal child-abusers like the Neumanns to the deity that never materializes, however. It protects delusional belief over the very real well-being of very real people who go through very real suffering and die very real deaths.
...In 1998, Swan and University of California-San Diego pediatrician Seth Asser published an article in the medical journal Pediatrics based on their review of 172 deaths of children between 1975 and 1995 whose parents had withheld medical care on religious grounds. They concluded that 140 of those children — 80% — would have had a 90% chance of survival had they received conventional medical care; another 18 would have had a 50% survival rate.

"They died of very simple things," says Swan. "Lots of diabetes deaths. Lots of infectious diseases that are readily treated with antibiotics."

And in virtually every state, prosecutors were prevented from bringing neglect charges, because the parents had relied on spiritual healing. Swan traces those laws to a mid-1970s federal mandate, which she says was lobbied for by the Christian Science Church and Christian Scientists...

...only a handful of states have repealed or narrowed the exemptions. Wisconsin has not. State statute 948.03(6) still says a person is not guilty of failing to protect children from harm "solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method for lieu of medical or surgical treatment."

This statute drew some attention in 2003, when a 4-year-old autistic child, Terrence Cottrell, was crushed to death in Milwaukee during an attempted exorcism by a self-taught preacher...

..."It is time for that law to be repealed," says Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. "The law is a green light for parents to think they don't have any responsibility to society [regarding how] they treat their children. The state should be stepping in here to do everything it can to discourage faith healing in place of medical care."

Any such attempt, however, will face opposition from the Christian Science Church, which is among the most established religious groups that promote the use of prayer to treat physical ailments.

"We deplore the abuse and neglect of children under any circumstances," says Farkas, the church's Wisconsin lobbyist. He says Christian Scientists "don't claim that all cases of religious objections to medical care should be free from legal limitations." And it would be "willing to work with legislators" on any efforts to redraft the law.

But the church would not want the law changed in a way that would expose its members to prosecution for practicing spiritual healing.

"The Christian Science Church has documented 125 years of healings that have occurred through prayer" since it was founded in 1879, says Farkas. "Spiritual healing through prayer definitely has a place in society..."
I think part of Farkas' statement must have been left out of the article. It should read in full, "We deplore the abuse and neglect of children under any circumstances in which it has not been given sanction by a bunch of bizarre mumbo-jumbo propounded by people like me."

The proper place for spiritual healing in society is right alongside shaking knucklebones over a dead cat to ward off the evil eye and burning incense and pubic hairs in a campfire to win love, because they are exactly the same thing. There is no difference between praying over someone to heal their sickness and any other sort of occult nonsense. None, zero, zip. Whether the people who engage in unacceptable, harmful behavior like the Neumanns believe that aid will come from an invisible superfriend or that by taking poison they'll be taken aboard flying saucers as was the case with Marshall Applewhite and Heaven's Gate, personal belief should not be an excuse to commit homicide. She really believes that God hates fags; should she get a special exemption from legal responsibility if she kills one?If it is, why shouldn't it be perfectly legal to drive through the streets of a large city shooting prostitutes if one's religious belief is that prostitution violates the will of Jehovah? Why shouldn't Fred Phelps be allowed to blow up gay bars? After all, he and his incestuous little tribe firmly believe that "God hates fags." Shall we as a society excuse murder in cases wherein the perpetrator deeply and sincerely believes in his mission from God?
Indeed, the state of Massachusetts, which repealed its own exemption law, is now considering reinstating a narrower form. Boston lawyer Stephen Lyons, who helped defend Christian Scientists convicted — and later acquitted — of homicide in the death of their child 13 years ago, says the new bill would let parents charged in such cases cite belief in spiritual healing as a defense.

Lyons equates families who act on their beliefs about spiritual healing with a long line of pioneers seeking religious liberty. He contends that cases like the one he handled and the one involving the Neumanns are often distorted in a swirl of publicity and prejudice.

"Ketoacidosis is something that kills children in hospitals every day," he says. "But we never second-guess the doctors because we assume that they do their best. But the parents of children who died of these illnesses never get the benefit of the same assumption. What gets lost is what they were seeing, what they were experiencing. No one seems to want to find out about the reasonableness of their conduct....
First off, HELL NO. This is the first I've heard of Massachusetts considering allowing even a few instances of death-by-Jesus to children and I doubt that it will pass. Lyons statement is a bunch of ridiculous gibberish. Who cares what the parents are experiencing? Do we make a special exemption under the law for this? "The one thing that gets lost here is that the crackhead who shot the clerk in the course of the robbery really believed that the clerk would rise from the dead in a few hours" isn't admissible, is it?

And what is this nonsense about nobody second-guessing doctors? Those silly physicians are paying exorbitant premiums for malpractice insurance for no reason, because nobody ever thinks for a moment that they could possibly have been negligent! I mean, when was the last time a physician was sued by the family of a child who died while under her care? That simply doesn't happen.

What is "getting lost" to Lyons' well-funded but apparently very small intellect is that he's full of crap. Doctors get sued all the time when something goes wrong under their charge; they are held accountable and investigated, a situation that becomes even more likely when a child dies from a relatively easily-treated condition like that which killed Madeline Neumann. In her case, she wasn't under the care of a physician or hospital, she was under the care of her parents. Just as would be a doctor who refused to provide treatment and thereby caused someone's death, Dan and Leilani Neumann should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law for facilitating the death of their daughter. Who wouldn't agree with the idea of charging a doctor who eschewed medicine or surgery in favor of mumbling incantations by the bedside with at least negligent homicide? Doctors are second-guessed every day; the Neumanns did it themselves. Every faith healer does it, ever New Age shaman who swallows herbal concotions does it, every homeopath who foists off water on their "patients" does it, and every patient and family member who takes the time to learn about the treatment that they or a loved one are receiving does it. That one or more of these people might believe deeply that angels and aliens are a better hope for healing than is modern medicine is immaterial.

People like Dale and Leilani Neumann don't need a special exemption under the law. We already have a plea that can be entered by those who believe that supernatural entities are commanding them to undertake a criminal course of action to the extent that they disregard reality. IT's called not guilty by reason of insanity. If homicidal faith-healers, the Leilani Neumanns and Joe Farkases of this country, can't tell on their own that what they're doing is wrong, that's the correct plea for them. Then they can be given proper therapy until the voices in their heads commanding them to kill have ceased and they stop being a danger to others.

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