More children killed by religiously-based medical neglect

More children are dying because their parents belong to religious sects that reject medical care.  An investigative report by KATU TV in Portland, Oregon, recently published on their website (please watch the heartbreaking video there), suggests that at least twelve children have died in Idaho since 2011 from medical neglect. The churches—in this case The Followers of Christ and The Church of the Firstborn—keep the deaths quiet, and legal authorities in Idaho can’t do anything about them. There have been some prosecutions in nearby Oregon, where exemptions were rescinded in 2010, but Idaho still allows religiously-based child manslaughter. Such is the deference paid to religion, even of this malevolent sort. From the report:

Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise [Idaho].

Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there.

The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some – like Beagley – are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

. . . KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

A former member of the Followers of Christ advised him to go to Peaceful Valley and look for two specific names.

He found them. He found many more.

The Followers of Christ manage to justify this murder in the name of “freedom of religion.” But of course the children have no freedom to seek medical care: they’re either too young or have been indoctrinated. And they see prosecutions as part of “an aggressive campaign against Christianity.”

KATU reported on his death [a two-year-old who died of pneumonia] in 2011, along with that of 14-year-old Rocky.

Rocky isn’t buried in the cemetery, but he lived nearby with his parents, Sally and Dan.

They didn’t want to talk about not getting him treatment.

“What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general. I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It’s not like you take “a” freedom away. It’s that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you’re chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine.”

That was that. Sevy didn’t want to talk any more about it.

“I told you I’m not going to do that,” he said. “You don’t understand the full story, and I’m not going to stand in front of a camera and give you the whole story. It’s just not going to happen. I see the way these things get edited out.

“All I see is an aggressive campaign against Christianity in general, it’s amazing to me in this day and age where Muslims get soft pedaled and Christians are under attack. It just blows my mind.”

Unfortunately, those weren’t the only names in the cemetery. There are 10 new graves that look as though they belong to children that have appeared since KATU’s last report in 2011.

The report also gives a list of child deaths from treatable conditions like pneumonia, diabetes,  intestinal blockage, and, in the case below, food poisoning:

Arrian Jade Granden. [Her story is given on the KATU video.]

Arrian was 15 years old. She ran track at Parma Middle School.

In June 2012, she got food poisoning.

She vomited so badly she ruptured her esophagus.

She slipped into unconsciousness and went into cardiac arrest.  She died.

. . . Of the 553 marked graves at Peaceful Valley Cemetery, 144 appear to be children under 18. That’s more than 25 percent.

Those deaths happened primarily in three different counties, which are manned by three different coroners who aren’t bringing the information to the public.

And this bit is perhaps the most horrifying of all:

The caretaker at Star Cemetery in Star, Idaho said a Followers member recently showed up saying he needed to bury a baby. The baby was in the back seat of his car. The caretaker said he made the church member get a death certificate before he buried the child.

Once again we see the absence of affect and emotionality in parents who let their children die. This defies all understanding—until you realize that following the dictates of their religion is more important to the parents than watching their children die agonizing deaths.

Here’s an interview with Dr. Charles Garrison, who performed the autopsy on 16-year-old Pamela Ellis, who died of pneumonia after a long (and untreated) battle with a pelvic infection.  Garrison obviously hates this stuff, but keeps a tight rein on his emotions for the camera:

And here’s Idaho’s legal religion exemption from prosecution (from the list compiled by the National District Attorney Association, my emphasis):

(1) Any person who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, or having the care or custody of any child, willfully causes or permits the person or health of such child to be injured, or willfully causes or permits such child to be placed in such situation that its person or health is endangered, is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or in the state prison for not less than one (1) year nor
more than ten (10) years.

. . . (4) The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.

How many more deaths will it take before the legislators of Idaho do something about these exemptions? Why, when it’s illegal to refuse medical care to a sick child, thereby causing injury or death, does it suddenly become legal when the motives come from a socially-sanctioned delusion?

How many more children will we allow to become martyrs for the faith of their parents? And why does this issue get so little attention?

38 Comments

  1. Diana
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    “Muslims get soft pedalled and Christians are under attack. It just blows my mind.”

    Wow, deflection to another religion & please Christianity has enjoyed a position of privilege for centuries, not to mention that neglecting children is something all religions are allowed to do (with the law behind them)!

    Children should be removed from these homes toute de suite!

    • Yuri
      Posted November 17, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Medical mal practice killed by 14 old neighbor.

      In fact, by the AMA’s own stats, Medical Mal Practice kills over 100,000 a year…a lot more than prayer, or car wrecks, or shootings.

  2. marksolock
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  3. Cruzrad
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    There is nothing more difficult to endure in this world than the loss of a child. These tragedies exemplify how the god delusion can warp normal human experience. Thank you for continuing to write about these young victims.

  4. Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    And why does this issue get so little attention?

    Because this would mean people would have to face and examinate their own faith. The cognitive dissonance is too big, so people avoid it.

  5. Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Sickening!

  6. Mattapult
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    “What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general.”

    The country was also founded on the concept of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Too bad it couldn’t protect the life of your baby against you, Dan. Does that make you happy, Dan, putting some mysterious “God” ahead of a baby? Do you think it’s ok because you’ll get to see your baby again in heaven?

    Serious delusions.

  7. Posted November 16, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Intercessory accessories. Prayer for the suffering is gross negligence cloaked in sanctimony.

  8. lisa parker
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    This whole situation is incredibly complex and convoluted. These deaths, abuse and unimaginable suffering of children obviously must be stopped. But the constitution guaranty religious freedom, and these crime are committed as a result of a government accepted religious belief, and parents are liable both legally and morally for their underage offspring, nearly to the point of actual ownership, that some lines get very faint and could open a really huge can of worms. The responsibilities of the government, religious institutions and legal parent/guardian usually become blurred and overlapping Can it be a crime if the parents are following their faith, guaranteed by the constitution? Exactly where does the responsibility of parenting end and the government begin? And then you start with all kinds of legal president. Do I want to give anyone else the power to raise my children? Who decides that I am not fit? Our government changes hands rather often, so these laws change with the tide. Right now the answers to all of these things appear obvious, but such cases usually are put into the hands of the judges. Are they sufficiently informed and capable of deciding who is a good parent who is only disciplining their children for their own good, and which is abusive? And when does discipline become abuse or neglect? How can the judges put aside their own views and experiences and make an objective ruling?

    • RFW
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Religious freedom means freedom of belief and opinion, but it is not a free pass for behaving badly. This is clear from the phrasing of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia statute of religious freedom, the model for the First Amendment.

      Got that? Religious freedom is freedom of thought, not unlimited freedom of action.

      So: beat your kids or your wife, go to jail. Deny your dependents the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, medical care) and no matter how sincere or deep the religious opinion for your actions, you still get hauled off to jail. Just like “your freedom to swing your arm ends at the tip of my nose”, so your freedom of religion ends when it results in harm to others.

      Don’t like that? Tough noogies. And, maybe, it’s time to change to a less harmful system of religious belief.

      • lisa parker
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        If you reread my comment, I make it clear that I do not think there is ANY reason, excuse or belief that ANYONE at ANYTIME should be able to get away with any atrocity of this kind, whether the accused are the legal guardian of the children or anyone else’s. My comment was about the difficulty of the legislation and its wording. Who decides when a spanking become a beating? When does discipline become abuse? Who decides which religion is okay to teach children? In the cases Jerry has brought up, there is no question who are criminally liable (or should be), but there are a lot of cases with a lot more grey areas. Who should be the one who decides when parents cross that line? Right now it is usually the family court judges, often some of whom are a lot more radical in their beliefs than the parents. The ambiguities of the legal rights of minors exacerbate the problem. When the courts do intervene, where do the children go? Who takes over the cost of these children’s support? A loving foster parent? Or someone that just wants the funding the courts allow and often don’t use it for the child’s needs? What happens to already traumatize children when they are separated from their siblings and give over to strangers they have no reason to trust? Our justice system regarding children is already overcrowded and burdened with more of these kinds of cases than they can possibly handle, and tracking the children usually goes to the bottom of the list of these under-funded agencies. The children often end up if not in a worse place, in a place that is no better. I challenge you to come up with an example legislation that is fair to both children and parents, with wording that leaves nothing that can be misinterpreted, that can easily be applied to all cases and be reasonably enforceable.

    • Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Hi Lisa, I suggest that you — like very many people — misinterpret what “religious freedom” means.

      It does *not* mean that a religious person has extra rights, that a religious person could get away with doing something that a non-religious person could not. That would be a denial of equality under the law.

      All “religious freedom” means is that you do not have *fewer* rights to do something owing to a religious content or motive, that restrictions on you may not have a religious motive. But restrictions for proper secular reasons are not a violation of religious freedom.

      These religious exemption laws are actually blatantly unconstitutional, because they do not have a secular purpose, they have a religious purpose, and they specifically advance and privilege religion, and thus they violate the Lemon Tests.

      I wrote more on this at: Christians don’t understand religious freedom.

      • Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Excellent piece. Thanks for the link.

      • lisa parker
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        I agree with you completely. Please see my response to RFW.

    • Henriksen
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      So if parents have the right to neglect their children to the point of death for this “religious freedom” you are speaking about, do people also have the right to activly kill their children? Let’s say the child is “possesed by satan” and faith healing does not help, do the parents have the right to put a silver bullet in his head, burry him 6 feet under and stick a pole through his chest? Do I have the right to perform a school shooting if it is for “religious reasons”?
      This kind of “logic” makes me mad. Freedom of Religion only means that we all have the exact same rights, no matter if you are a muslim, christian, satanist, buddhist, atheist or whatever you want. That’s freedom.

      • lisa parker
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        But children do not have the same protected rights that adults do. I am afraid you misunderstood my comment. I hope this will clarify my point.
        If you reread my comment, I make it clear that I do not think there is ANY reason, excuse or belief that ANYONE at ANYTIME should be able to get away with any atrocity of this kind, whether the accused are the legal guardian of the children or anyone else’s. My comment was about the difficulty of the legislation and its wording. Who decides when a spanking become a beating? When does discipline become abuse? Who decides which religion is okay to teach children? In the cases Jerry has brought up, there is no question who are criminally liable (or should be), but there are a lot of cases with a lot more grey areas. Who should be the one who decides when parents cross that line? Right now it is usually the family court judges, often some of whom are a lot more radical in their beliefs than the parents. The ambiguities of the legal rights of minors exacerbate the problem. When the courts do intervene, where do the children go? Who takes over the cost of these children’s support? A loving foster parent? Or someone that just wants the funding the courts allow and often doesn’t use it for the child’s needs? What happens to already traumatize children when they are separated from their siblings and give over to strangers they have no reason to trust? Our justice system regarding children is already overcrowded and burdened with more of these kinds of cases than they can possibly handle, and tracking the children usually goes to the bottom of the list of these under-funded agencies. The children often end up if not in a worse place, in a place that is no better. I challenge you to come up with an example legislation that is fair to both children and parents, with wording that leaves nothing that can be misinterpreted, that can easily be applied to all cases and be reasonably enforceable.

  9. Glenn Butler
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Often when I speak with the Christian faithful, I will inquire into their perspective on the adulterous story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12). Unsurprisingly, most Christians I speak with have to be introduced to the full text of the story.

    Somehow their all-loving god sees fit to punish David by murdering Bathsheba’s innocent infant, apparently after striking the child fatally ill. Moreover, their less than merciful god forces the child to endure sickness for seven days before finally succumbing to its ailments.

    Christians will rationalize the actions of their god in ways that never fail to astonish and shock me. The child didn’t suffer. God is a wrathful God. The child is in heaven. God had to punish David. Excuses ad nauseum. Excuses that should make your head spin faster than Regan MacNeil.

    • Mattapult
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      That, of course, is after David kills her husband to hide his adultery–an offense punishable by stoning according to God’s law. After killing that infant, God rewards them with another baby, Solomon. It’s one of many WTF would God do stories.

      • lisa parker
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        Well, Solomon’s solution was to cut the child in half. I’ve often wondered how he would have handled the ‘heads or tails’ question. But please tell me you are not looking for reason, logic or justice in the bible.

  10. Ed Venegas
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I’d be willing to bet money that they are “pro-life” as well

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Ha, good point.

  11. Sastra
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Religion involves the idea of someone having special facts — truths which are not and cannot be made available to ordinary sense and reason, but which are true nevertheless. How do people know these special facts? Through special means — revelations, mysticism, personal experience/interpretation, tradition, and of course the golden standard: just knowing it in your heart.

    In general, once new facts are introduced into how we understand a problem the moral situation often changes. It’s information. If the information is critical enough it can significantly reshift good and bad options. This happens all the time. Knowledge is power.

    Special knowledge is special power.

    This I think is where we run into the problems with the respect and deference granted to faith within the law. Respect for faith is allowing them special facts — with no reason to draw a line at any point. The faithful are handed a weapon which allows good people to see a Bigger Picture than you and me and thus do horrible things with a clear conscience and positive intentions.

    These parents would probably insist that they loved their kids MORE because they also loved God. They didn’t make a choice. They didn’t have to make a choice because God put that precious child in their care, told them what to do, and trusted that they would trust God and love their children enough to do it.

    So there was God AND their child on the one side — and the world and the devil on the other. Their “struggle” was doubtless framed in those terms.

    I think those poor children were loved to death.

    • RFW
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      “Religion involves the idea of someone having special facts — truths which are not and cannot be made available to ordinary sense and reason, but which are true nevertheless.”

      Those aren’t facts. Those are mere opinions unsupported by evidence and, worse, in conflict with existing evidence. Which is to say that they are false beliefs. And are evidence of their holders’ delusional nature.

      In these regards, they’re really the same as sasquatch-belief, yeti-belief, UFO-belief, conspiracy theory belief, and many other delusions.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Those people who firmly believe in Sasquatch, yeti, UFO’s, and various conspiracies tend to reason the same way as the religious do — and use the same immunizing strategies. A tarot-card reader faced with a skeptical debunking behaves a lot like a theist faced with an atheist. There’s an outraged sense of how dare you mingled together with a condescending attitude of you can’t know because your mind and heart are closed and mine are not.

  12. Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    You know the 1st Amendment covers not only freedom of religion, but also freedom of speech. And the strongest protections for speech are for political speech.

    Now imagine if a political zealot denied needed medical care to his child, and justified it by saying that it was his profound political belief that ObamaCare was unconscionable policy.

    Do you think his actions would be protected? Of course not. Where in the 1st Amendment does it say that religious freedom supersedes freedom of speech?

    Religious freedoms have been given way too much deference in this country. People are allowed to let other people die because of their religious freedom? Seriously? The 1st Amendment protects freedom of assembly also. Imagine if a crowd of people, gathered in a tight throng for a political protest, did not allow a child trapped in the center of the throng egress to an ambulance, because their right to assembly would have been abridged!

  13. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I’m not resident in the US, but my guess is that most people would rather not think about this.

    Professor Coyne and other high-profile commenters will drag this into the public eye and keep it there. This practice is so appalling that it is inexcusable; I don’t doubt that Professor Coyne will win this one.

    Does Bill Maher read WEIT? Fingers crossed!

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Maher? You mean, if it’s not on TV it doesn’t really count? Cynic!

      • Matthew Jenkins
        Posted November 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Hmm, although WEIT gets lots of hits, Bill Maher would give this issue additional exposure and would help provide the publicity that the issue needs if it is to gather sufficient momentum to change the law.

        The major characteristic of these beliefs is the awfulness of letting children die. Putting that to one side, they are also ridiculous, and Bill Maher is good at exposing that.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone

    It is quite likely that when these laws were originally thought up and, in each state’s case, written, there was a gap to push gods in. The inefficacy of these practices weren’t established rigorously, as they are today (re intercessory prayer studies).

    Now we know this is humbug. And it should be treated like that. Instead of having a special privilege, the ideas that institute that privilege should be prosecuted as other dangerous humbug.

  15. Posted November 16, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    This topic is an excellent one for Katherine Stewart to cover in much greater depth, much like she did w/ The Good News Club.

    But, I must say, you’re doing a great job as well. I had faint idea that this tragedy was so widespread here in the good ol’ US of A. It’s almost unbelievable.

  16. John Henry Farr
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    The practice of using prayer only is not shared by all Christians. There is no scripture that instructs prayer only. The apostle Peter was a physician before he was given the power of laying on of hands. So, don’t judge all Christians on the misguided beliefs of a few.

    • Posted November 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      Are there any x-tians who reject the ridiculous notion that prayer to a invisible deity has any possibility of being effective in curing anything? The answer, as you very well know, is a negative one. If you differ on that assertion, please point out a sect that believes differently.

      Misguided beliefs of a few? Really? That’s simply not true. The delusions shared by every sect are just a matter of degree.

      • lisa parker
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        @ Revelmundo Perhaps. But that’s one hell of a degree. Most of the Christians do believe in the power of prayer, but none of them believe that ONLY prayer need be used to remedy everything. In fact, no one I have ever known, of any faith or none, would tolerate, much less condone such actions described above.

        • Posted November 17, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

          The moment I wrote the original comment I knew that someone would begin quibbling about the word “only.” Sure enough, here it is.

          “Most x-tians believe in the power of prayer” is a gross understatement. They all do because they share in the same delusion. They extent to which they actually believe that their prayers will be heard by their imagined deity and that their prayers will persuade their deity to ignore its preordained “plan” for every leaf and crawling creature on a small speck in the universe is simply a matter of degree, dictated by the depth of their delusion.

          Prayer, whether it’s one small part or the primary effort of a curing regimen is a complete waste of time. That sane and reasonable people in the 21st century would believe otherwise is simply astounding.

  17. Posted November 17, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on A man and his brain and commented:
    Just did a paper on this topic….Interesting.

  18. Posted November 17, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on christianagnostic and commented:
    Just a heartbreaking report….

  19. Dawn
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    My parents are members of the Followers church in Marsing, Idaho. I almost died of fucking strep throat when I was 10. I am 22 now and still suffer from health problems stemming from that one infection. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I guess I’m lucky thouh because I watched so many other kids (my age and younger) marched to an early grave. It’s just irresponsibility dressed up religious fluff. It needs to stop for the sake of all those kids who can’t speak up for themselves. Medical neglect isn’t the only thing they suffer from either. A lot of them are victims of physical and emotional abuse too. It just makes me sick.

  20. Stella
    Posted November 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say all. Most, or even the vast majority, but I would think at least a few have realized that prayer does not work. I think it’s just simple odds. They may be on their way to becoming atheists, but still.

    Cheers


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