When religious freedom turns to child neglect

There are currently an estimated 170 million people worldwide who suffer from diabetes. A few decades ago, this disease was destroying lives. Children diagnosed would slowly fade away, often dying of starvation even though they were eating plenty of food. The discovery of insulin, and later its manufacture, has allowed what would otherwise be a deadly disease to become only an inconvenience for those who suffer from it. In other words, diabetes is no longer the death sentence it was 60 years ago.

The availability of insulin, however, was not able to save poor Kara Neuman, who died Easter Sunday last year. Her parents are followers of the ‘Unleavened Bread Ministries‘, an online church that forbids using modern medicine and preach that the End Times are near. Kara’s parents refused to call a doctor, even as their daughter lay dying in bed. She did not survive, and now the parents are being brought to trial for child neglect.

They have chosen to make this a First Amendment issue, asking that they be allowed to practice their religion without interference from the state. They say they are grief stricken, and they have already been punished enough by the tragic death of their young daughter.

I don’t doubt they loved their Kara very much, or that they feel terrible about how events transpired. They are no doubt wrestling with their theological convictions as we speak. The problem is, the decision not to seek treatment was not theirs to make. Sure, they are her parents, and as caregivers, they are allowed a great degree of flexibility in how they choose to deliver this care. However, their own personal religious convictions cannot interfere with the well being of another human being. Kara was her own person, and her right to have medical treatment outweighs the rights of her parents to live according to their religious doctrine.

We see these kinds of cases all the time, and they haven’t stopped being so controversial. People don’t want the state telling them how to raise their children, or their lives. Although I’ve never had a problem with an adult deciding for themselves they do not wish to seek treatment for their own illnesses, I do not agree this right extends also to their children. To deny another human being the right to live is more than neglectful; it is a form of abuse.

Consider the Travoltas. Their son suffered from autism, a disease the parents deny even exists. They did not seek the proper treatment, and as a result, he died of a seizure. And yet, these ignorant people have not been prosecuted. Their religious belief was more important than the life and health of their boy. It stands to reason that this type of insanity should not be allowed to continue. Religious beliefs in conflict with medical science are wrong. They are responsible for the countless deaths of innocent children who had the misfortune of being raised by people who were more interested in make believe than they were in the lives of their loved ones.

Cases like this highlight the growing rift between science and religion. Fundamentalism is forcing us to make difficult choices. Among these is the notion that parents do not ultimately have the power of life and death over their children. If a life can be saved using medical science, it will be. The damage to a person’s religious conviction is not seen as a bigger threat than the loss of an innocent life.

Do I wish to see the Neumans in jail for the next 25 years? No, not especially. I believe the death of their daughter was a tragedy that began with the dangerous assertions made by their church. Religious individuals need to realize their beliefs are protected so long as they remain private, and dictate only their own personal lives, not the lives of others around them. This is a warning to parents who place their doctrine over the lives of their children: call the doctor, or get ready to call your lawyer.

Comments (6)

  • avatar

    Carolyn Deans

    Your blog post led me to believe that the girl who died was an infant “… their baby daughter…” However, the article you link to shows a photo and states her age as 11 years. Just wanted to point that out. The death of an 11 year old girl due to a totally treatable disease seems like a much greater loss to me (for whatever reason) than that of an infant.

  • avatar

    Jacob Fortin

    changed it, although it does seem weird that it is a greater loss. Perhaps you feel that Kara had not only been neglected, but also lied to about treatment options.

  • avatar

    Carolyn

    Yeah, pretty much. At least if she were an infant, the child would have been pretty much unaware of what was going on. Not the case for an 11-year old.

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