Since when have we become a country that condones the endangerment and maltreatment of our nation’s future? We must protect those who are unable to protect themselves, even if that means challenging and relinquishing some of our very own unalienable rights. The freedom of religious belief, guaranteed by our Constitution, cannot justify behavior that endangers an innocent child’s life; yet, far too many cases in recent years have resulted in the unnecessary loss of life because parents have refrained from seeking medical treatment for their children due to religious beliefs that posit prayer is the only suitable method of care. While religious freedom must be respected, it is misguided for such parents to claim that their inherent religious protections, as supported by the Constitution, exempt them from any form of punishment when their religiously motivated behavior results in a child’s death.
According to a recent article in The New York Times, Kara Neumann, an 11-year-old girl from Wisconsin, died from diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication that could have been easily prevented and treated if her parents had chosen to visit a doctor. Instead, they opted only to pray. As a result of their undying faith in “prayer healing,” their child needlessly lost her life.
It was not until an aunt from California took the initiative and called the police to intervene that Kara received any medical treatment. Unfortunately, it was too late. Kara Neumann was pronounced dead on arrival.
While some may argue that Kara’s parents have a constitutional right to their freedom of religion, we cannot dismiss the fact that an innocent child is dead due to her parents’ negligence and failure to put their daughter’s well-being above the principles of their religion.
It is one thing for the Neumann parents to practice and carry out the conditions of their religion themselves, but it is an entirely different matter to force a certain set of beliefs onto their child, especially when those beliefs are responsible for letting treatable conditions result in death.
The Neumanns are followers of an online faith outreach group called Unleavened Bread Ministries, which promotes faith healing and talks about the end of the world. As part of the ministry, the Neumanns do not believe in or advocate doctors, hospitals and medical treatment. They have been charged with reckless endangerment will each face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
In the past year, there have been two other cases involving parents, both in Oregon, who were criminally charged with negligence as a result of not seeking medical treatment for their children because they claimed it would have infringed upon their religious beliefs. While one couple was charged with manslaughter of their 15-month-old daughter who died of pneumonia, the other couple was found guilty of negligent homicide when their 16-year-old son died of complications from a urinary tract infection.
In all of these cases, the causes of death were easily curable. If these parents had put their extreme religious beliefs aside for just a moment and opened their eyes, they would have seen the amazing medical advancements that our world has made to save thousands of lives, and perhaps saved their own child’s life. Instead, they sat back and watched as their child became increasingly ill each day until their child’s eventual and unnecessary death. Therefore, their behavior is not only cruel and inhumane, but warrants prosecution.
In their defense, the Neumann parents will try to claim that they were unaware of the severity of their daughter’s condition, but Kara had lost the strength to speak the day before she died, as cited in a police report.
“Kara laid down and was unable to move her mouth and merely made moaning noises and moved her eyes back and forth,” the report said.
By permitting their child’s illness to evolve to the point of fatality, the Neumann parents are guilty of not only parental negligence and reckless endangerment, but also murder.
According to religions that practice faith healing, such as Christian Science and Scientology, using any sort of medical treatment would underestimate and doubt the almighty powers of God, and would ultimately cut them off from God. As parents, however, they must be able to balance their role as caretakers and as devoted followers.
Approximately 300 children have died in the United States in the last 25 years because of parents who have refrained from seeking medical care in order to preserve their religious beliefs. Therefore, it is important that this case sets a necessary precedent so that religious zealots, such as the Neumanns, will have to re-evaluate their beliefs before they have a chance to put their child’s life at risk. Adherence to religious beliefs should not take precedence over a child’s life, which, in the end, merits far more protections than the Constitutionally protected right to the freedom of religion.
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