Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On a wing and a prayer

An American couple decided that prayer would save their daughter, and declined to seek medical attention. Turns out that prayer didn't save her. They called the emergency services only when she stopped breathing.

They will now be spending one month a year each in jail, for the next six years, one parent in March, one parent in September. There are some inventive sentences available over the pond, it seems.

She had undiagnosed diabetes. Modern science has dealt with the vast majority of what has been killing us for centuries; malaria, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, diarrhoea and dysentery. Many people, especially those of us with access to modern science (which includes all my readers, obviously), live to a ripe old age and die of general wearing out and falling apart. This young child has been robbed of the rest of her life by her parents' wilful ignorance of the marvels of medical science.

Words fail me. May she rest in peace, and may the remaining children always be properly cared for.

Guardian article


  1. Unfortunately, there is a large religious environment in the US that has set itself up as some kind of opposition to science. In most other places in the world, devout parents would have taken the kid to the doctor, and when the doctor cured it, they would have blessed him for doing God's work, and thanked God for sending him. Why has it gone so horribly wrong in the US?

    Beyond sad.

  2. Clobbered may be right that there is an opposition among some in the US to such aspects of science as evolution, but regarding this as representative of the overall trend is to take an isolated exception as if it were the rule. Even though I often find devout Americans annoying, the behaviour that I would expect of them would be exactly that described by Clobbered as that of devout parents from the rest of the world. Need I remind Clobbered that there are legal cases in the UK dealing with the consequences of Jevovah's Witness' refusal to receive blood transfusion for themselves or others?

  3. Julian, I take issue with the assertion that devout parents the world over are deliberately failing to take their sick children to hospital, instead trusting in God to heal them through prayer / crystals / whatever they believe.

    Many Christians, for example, take the extremely sensible view that modern medicine is a gift from God, and gratefully receive its full benefit. Taking a child to hospital and praying for divine intervention are plainly not mutually exclusive.

    In Canada, for example, court orders to force treatment on the children of Jehovah's Witnesses are used. They lost all their appeals, by the way.

    In this country, the High Court will order treatment of children, regardless of the spiritual beliefs of the parents. The parents, of course, have the autonomy and understanding to refuse and die.

  4. Anonymous Prosecutor,

    I think that you misunderstood my comment. I meant that the vast majority of devout parents in the USA are exactly like devout parents in the rest of the world in that they assume that God works through doctors and that modern medicine should be used. Additionally, the exceptions are present in many countries including the UK and USA.

    The examples that you give in Canada and the UK of parents whose wishes are overruled by courts show that there are indeed notable exceptions of people who choose for religious reasons not to rely on medicine. My point is that Clobbered was mistaken is alleging that such fanaticism is unique to the USA; rather, it is an issue among a small minority of devout parents in many countries.

    As you note, the courts in many countries feel the need to step in when basic treatment is being unreasonably witheld from children by their parents. The circumstances of the Neumann family appear unique in that nobody in the family saw fit to alert anyone to the situation and make outside intervention possible. As in the UK, criminal liability arises where such a flagrant breach of parental duty causes death.

  5. Julian -- my apologies, on re-reading your post, the meaning becomes more clear! I'm glad sensible-ness seems to prevail widely, and weirdo cults are being sidelined. There may need to be another post about cults...

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