Neglecting a child’s life-threatening illness and allowing the child to die in the name of religious liberty is a criminal offense and also an offense to the name of religious liberty. Seth M. Asser and Rita Swan,—researchers respectively with the Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego,
School of Medicine, San Diego, California, and Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), Inc, Sioux City, Iowa—published their research in 1998 in Pediatrics Vol. 101 No. 4. Here is the abstract:
ABSTRACT. Objective. To evaluate deaths of children from families in which faith healing was practiced in lieu of medical care and to determine if such deaths were preventable.
Design. Cases of child fatality in faith-healing sects were reviewed. Probability of survival for each was then estimated based on expected survival rates for children with similar disorders who receive medical care.
Participants. One hundred seventy-two children who died between 1975 and 1995 and were identified by referral or record search. Criteria for inclusion were evidence that parents withheld medical care because of reliance on religious rituals and documentation sufficient
to determine the cause of death.
Results. One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of >50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help.
Conclusions. When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical
neglect. Pediatrics 1998;101:625–629; child abuse, child neglect, child fatality, Christian Science, faith healing, medical neglect, prayer, religion and medicine.
Among their findings, the two noted this:
A total of 23 denominations from 34 states were represented in this study. Five groups accounted for 83% of the total fatalities (Table 4). Several states had totals disproportionate to population. There were 50 from Indiana, home of the Faith Assembly. Pennsylvania
had 16 fatalities, including 14 from the Faith Tabernacle. The Church of the First Born accounted for the majority of 15 deaths in neighboring Oklahoma and Colorado. In South Dakota there were 5 deaths from the End Time Ministries. Nationwide, the Christian Science church had 28 deaths in the study.
Contacts with public agencies and mandated reporters of suspected child neglect were not unusual among the children. Believing they were powerless in the face of the parents’ wishes, some teachers ignored obvious symptoms and sent lessons home to bedridden children. Some social workers and law enforcement officers allowed parents to decline examinations of children reported to be ill. Public officials did not investigate the deaths of some children.
One teenager asked teachers for help getting medical care for fainting spells, which she had been refused at home. She ran away from home, but law enforcement returned her to the custody of her father. She died 3 days later from a ruptured appendix.
A premature girl was delivered successfully at a hospital after her twin brother died during a home birth. Her mild respiratory distress syndrome resolved after 4 days of oxygen and other minimally invasive support. She then developed progressively severe apneic spells. The medical staff acquiesced to the parents’ request not to transfer the child to a higher level unit, despite an expected good prognosis. She died 2 days later when she could not be
resuscitated after a respiratory arrest.
The image at the top is from a post by a Facebook friend, and I know this person to express strong religious belief. Additionally, the screen shot from my Facebook feed captured three comments to Dan’s posting, and there were three more I did not capture.
It is impossible to escape the conclusion that in many cases parents are choosing allegiance to religious belief over their duty to their children. And may Jesus have mercy on their souls.