Faith-based healing kills kids: this time U.S. gets it right and Canadians screw up

One of the worst aspects of the science-vs.-religion conflict involves medicine, in particular the tendency of some groups to abjure scientific medicine in favor of either religiously-based healing or unsubstantiated methods of folk or spiritual healing that are also based on faith. It’s especially invidious when “faith healing” is given to children.

In many parts of the U.S., and apparently in Canada, it’s okay to withhold medical care from your children if you do so on religious or “traditional medicine” grounds. A chilling report from the U.S.’s National District Attorney Association lists, state by state, how you can get off for killing your kid by relying on prayer for healing.  As the report says:

37 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have laws providing that parents or caretakers who fail to provide medical assistance to a child because of their religious beliefs are not criminally liable for harm to the child.

But of course if you fail to provide medical assistance on nonreligious grounds, you can be criminally liable, so this is a completely unwarranted privilege “enjoyed” by the faithful. Not only that, but it’s resulted in the deaths of hundreds of childrens and newborns (you can abjure midwives and obstetricians) who are given prayer instead of medical care.

I write quite a bit about this in The Albatross, because it’s not only an example of the incompatibility between science and faith, but because it’s widespread in America, and because laws exculpating faith-healing parents were passed by state legislatures (and originally mandated by the Ford administration as part of standardizing child-abuse regulations throughout America), so that we’re all in a sense responsible for the many deaths and injuries to innocent kids. (The federal government eventually withdrew the requirement for religious exemptions, but it was too late: they had already become law in many states.)

And even when parents are prosecuted, the confusing tangle of laws, and the unwarranted sympathy that judges and juries have for religious parents, often mean that convicted parents get off virtually scot-free, sometimes even with unsupervised probation.

This privileging of religion has to stop: all desperately ill children should be required to be given real medical care and not prayer or untested herbs; and parents who don’t give it should be prosecuted just as strongly as parents who are abusive for nonreligious reasons. The Christian Scientists are the most guilty of this kind of neglect (I have a chilling story in The Albatross), but there are many religious sects that rely on faith healing, and there’s at least one estimate that as many as 81% of children who die after given faith-healing could have been saved by conventional medicine.

But this week the U.S. got it right in one case, as reported by KEZI.com in Oregon. Fortunately, that’s one of the states that has no religious exemptions, but does have a plethora of evangelical Christians who hold to faith healing:

After four hours of deliberating Monday evening, a Linn County jury found both Wenona and Travis Rossiter guilty of manslaughter in the first and second degree.

The couple is accused of recklessly and negligently causing the death of their 12-year-old daughter Syble last year, who died from diabetic ketoacidosis. The state argues the parents should have been aware of the girl’s health problems, and that a reasonable person would have sought medical care. The Rossiters claim they thought their daughter had the flu, which is why they did not bring her to a doctor.

The state also presented testimony to the jury that indicates the Rossiters belong to the Church of the First Born in Brownsville, a group that believes in faith-healing. Though Travis Rossiter says in his police interview that he believes it is a sin to see a doctor, Wenona Rossiter testified on Monday that the case was not a question of their religion because they were not aware that Syble had type one diabetes. She also told the jury that she once before took her husband to the emergency room.

The couple will be sentenced on Dec. 19.

Juvenile diabetes is a disease you come across over and over again in cases of faith healing. Parents simply pray while their children die, usually in agony, and yet the condition is easily controlled with insulin. And really, how credible is it that the parents didn’t know that the kid had diabetes? A kid in the last stages of the disease needs to go to a doctor, stat, and not get prayed over because of a suspected case of “flu.” We’ll see whether they throw the book at the Rossiters, as they should, for this is a case where deterrence of others is important. And we need to revoke every religious exemption law for vaccination or faith-healing in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Canadians have yet to learn this lesson, for a court in Ontario rejected a hospital’s plea that a leukemia-stricken “aboriginal” girl (I guess that’s the term Canadians have for what we call “Native Americans”; they also use “members of “First Nations”) be given chemotherapy instead of the traditional and ineffective herbal medicine that her parents” are using.

As the CBC reports:

A judge rejected an application from a Hamilton hospital that would have seen the Children’s Aid Society intervene in the case of the girl whose family had stopped her chemotherapy at the hospital in favour of traditional medicine. The girl has been undergoing treatment for leukemia in Florida.

In a statement posted on a Six Nations community newspaper Friday night, the family of the girl at the centre of the case says the “stress our family lived until today was uncalled for” and that they would never compromise the child’s well-being, saying plans that included monitoring blood work was part of a care plan.

Excuse me, but that’s total garbage. The family’s “treatment” will kill the girl, and the judge will have her blood on his hands.  The doctors estimate that the girl has a 90-95% chance of survival with chemotherapy, but without treatment she’ll die.  And yet the “right” of aboriginals to do what they want to their sick kids is celebrated as a triumph, and is protected by law:

Judge Gethin Edward has presided over the complicated and potentially precedent-setting Brantford, Ont., court case  since it began on Sept. 25

“I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy,” Edward said, as he read his ruling aloud.

Constitutional protection of religion is one thing, and something I favor, but where is the constitutionally protected right to abuse your children by withholding scientific medical care? Children can’t decide for themselves, and if their religious parents want to pray over them instead of taking them to the hospital, the right of the State to protect the child’s life supersedes, in my mind, the “right” to exercise your religious dictates.  The CBC report continues;

Edward, citing the testimony of two McMaster Children’s Hospital doctors, agreed the child wasn’t capable of making her own medical decisions. But he found it was the mother’s aboriginal rights — which he called “integral” to the family’s way of life — allow her to choose traditional medicine for her daughter.

. . . Judge Edward reiterated that no one, including the doctors from McMaster Children’s Hospital who have called for legal intervention, has suggested that the girl’s mother is negligent.

“Nobody is suggesting DH is anything but a caring, loving parent,” he said in his ruling.

“Aboriginal rights”? To treat a dying child with a vegetable diet and “positive attitudes”? That’s positively obscene. Click on the screenshot below to hear the 11-minute video giving infuriating arguments by advocates for “traditional” medicine:

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.02.41 AM

There is no “aboriginal right” that justifies withholding proven medicine in favor of woo. When the child dies, let us recall how this court’s decision and deference to “aboriginal rights” led to her death. The gloating is disgusting:

Outside the court, Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and New Credit First Nations Chief Bryan Laforme welcomed the ruling, saying it has broader effects across Canada.

Supporters of the aboriginal side in the case that was being heard by Judge Gethin Edward hold up signs outside the Brantford, Ont., court. (John Lesavage/CBC)

​”This is monumental,” said Laforme. “It reaffirms our right to be Indian and to practise our medicines in the traditional way.”

Hill said the mother is “overjoyed,” with the news.

When asked about what specific treatment the girl is receiving now, Hill declined to say, adding that was between the family and the girl’s traditional healer — which Hill said involves the same confidentiality of a doctor-patient relationship.

The mother, Hill said, “has the right to do whatever she wants to try and save her child.”

The hospital, sadly, will not appeal. A child’s life will be taken away by misguided respect for “First Nation” strictures, which deserve no more respect, in terms of children’s welfare, than U.S. “religious rights.”

I have a lot more to say about this issue, which infuriates me, but I’ll do it in The Albatross. All I’ll say now is that spiritual/religious healing and “traditional medicine” are both instantiations of faith that contravene science, and that while parents can choose their own treatment, they have no right to inflict death-dealing woo on innocent, uninformed, and often brainwashed children.

Religion is good for society, you say? How many children’s deaths will it take to counterbalance the so-called beneficial effects of faith?

h/t: Stephen Q.Muth, Butter’s staff

95 Comments

  1. Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    If your “traditional faith-based healing” involves a nice bowl of fresh homemade chicken soup and a pot of chamomile tea to help you through a nasty cold, I’m all for it. And attending a “prayer circle” with friends after a diagnosis of cancer may well provide some emotional support for some, not all, religiously-minded people, especially if it’s as much talking out emotions and fears and plans and hopes as anything else.

    But when it becomes “instead of” rather than “in addition to,” it becomes a problem. If it turns out to be not a cold but the flu, yeah, keep eating as much chicken soup as you like, but don’t skimp on the oral rehydration solution, either, and make sure to keep the primary care physician closely informed in case hospitalization is called for. And, for the sake of all that’s unholy, don’t refuse chemotherapy if that’s what your oncologist is telling you you need. (Exception: if a second opinion recommends, for example, surgery plus radiation instead of chemotherapy, or other variations on that theme.)

    b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      In some quotes, the mother said chemotherapy was “poison”. Yeah no shit it’s poison. It’s an imprecise instrument but it was going to save your daughter’s life. Now you’ll see what it’s going to be like for her to suffer slowly & die. You’ll see what poison cancer is.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 15, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        Technically a lot of drugs are or can be poisonous. Even Paracetamol is extremely dangerous in an overdose, for example.

        So the mother may not be technically wrong about chemo (particularly considering the side effects), just stupid.

      • Posted November 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        My mom recently had back surgery. In her words, it was like she got hit by a freight train. As I put it from my own experiences with surgery, any day you have surgery is a bad day.

        But, thing is…it’s the only way we know to get a lifetime’s worth of future bad days out of the way in a great hurry.

        Modern medicine does all sorts of really nasty shit to people, but the dividends paid are frankly miraculous.

        And, no; it doesn’t always work. But it’s far and away the smartest way to roll the dice. The alternatives, on the other hand, are no better than doing nothing, and often worse.

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted November 16, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          When my dad was on the good intravenous drugs after his surgery I kept warning him that when he comes off them he’d feel bad. He didn’t listen which I think was because of the medication. He learned just how shitty surgery is.

          I’m right now going through a health scare that I’m hoping is just a really bad Halloween joke because the thought of the treatment is terrifying.

          • Posted November 16, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            Ugh. Here’s hoping for “joke.”

            b&

          • Diane G.
            Posted November 17, 2014 at 12:29 am | Permalink

            Sorry to hear that, Diana! I’ll be thinking of you…

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted November 18, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

              Damn it, it turned out to be serious. I have to see a surgeon within a few days to a week. 😦

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                Oh, no!

                You have all my thoughts and best wishes of course.

              • Posted November 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Oh, no. We’ll be thinking good thoughts🐯
                Take care and keep us informed.

              • Posted November 19, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                “Ditto.” Let us know if we can help, Diana, and do keep us in the loop. Maybe you can get somebody to email Jerry with an update or two while you’re recovering from the surgery?

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted November 19, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

                Same here. Good luck.

                I’ve found that it never ends up being quite as bad as I think it will if I just start out assuming the absolute worst possible outcome conceivable. But others have told me they think this is a very BAD idea and horrible advice. So — whatever works.

              • Posted November 19, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

                Well, the worst case is generally that you’re gonna die. But we’re all gonna die eventually anyway whether we want to or not.

                I think more fruitful might be the cliche of “prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” It’s actually a close parallel to what science is all about: determining the most likely range of values that represents reality. If things do get as bad as they can, at least you’ve blunted the impact by being prepared for it. And if things go as well as could have been hoped for, you get the relief of it not being as bad as you feared.

                b&

  2. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    It is possible that the Rossiters didn’t know that their daughter had diabetes, but that would mean that they had never taken her to a doctor. Which means, of course, that the poor girl had to suffer for years before the crazy fanatic parents finally tortured her to death.

    • Posted November 16, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      It also means they don’t read or watch any news source. Diabetes is so prevalent in people that it’s virtually impossible for anyone not to know people with the disease and, therefore, not to have some awareness of the symptoms.

  3. GBJames
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Hill said the mother is “overjoyed,” with the news.

    I trust she’ll be equally overjoyed when the child dies since “rights” will have been preserved.

    Is this child not a citizen of Canada with a right to live through a treatable illness?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Stupid court should have said that if the child dies, they will charge her with homicide.

      • Ken McKeen
        Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        The mother could be charged with failing to provide the necessities of life, which is a criminal code offence, written for just these circumstances. Where the parent is acting without intent to harm but causes harm through inaction. This is what makes this ruling perverse. The judge must be aware that the parent and for that matter the Children’s aid society which opposed the motion by the hospital will be culpable in the child’s death.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          I wonder if they will be though, if a court rules it okay to proceed with this type of treatment.

          • John Scanlon, FCD
            Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

            Someone needs to appeal to a higher court, or Judge Edward should be liable for prosecution: it looks like he’s assumed the whole responsibility now.

            • Posted November 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

              I’ve seen cases like this before. Unfortunately, the “somebody” is the hospital, which is eventually forced to choose between spending hundreds of thousand or millions of dollars on one legal case, and subjecting themselves to endless viciousness from anti-science forces, or spending that money treating many people. As sad as it is, the hospitals often find that they have to pull away, and thus a child loses their life when it could have been saved.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Oh but it’s much, much worse. It isn’t “traditional” medicine she is even getting so if the courts in Ontario think they are being nice in accomodating natives, they should think again. This girl is actually being treated by a charlatan in Florida (who is as aboriginal as a butterfly). From the CBC:

    A Florida health resort licensed as a “massage establishment” is treating a young Ontario First Nations girl with leukemia using cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet, among other therapies.

    The mother of the 11-year-old girl, who can not be identified because of a publication ban, says the resort’s director, Brian Clement, who goes by the title “Dr.,” told her leukemia is “not difficult to treat.”

    I was so pissed about this, I couldn’t even write about it myself. Maybe I will later, referencing this article. I think there is a few things going on here in particular fear/guilt over criticizing First Nations people – there have been a lot of protests from First Nations lately and a lot of crimes with First Nations girls being killed. I suspect with all this in the forefront, the courts felt bad interfering with beliefs (ironically, these aren’t even traditional treatments). I see this as so since the Canadian Supreme Court has in the past ruled against Jehovah Witnesses. How can you have a double standard? Guilt over First Nations.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      That’s my judgment of this case too – that this is about guilt of the way First Nations people have been treated in the past and fear of being labelled racist. It’s simply revolting that another child is going to needlessly suffer and die because of the distorted beliefs of the parents. Equally guilty are those who have chosen to take advantage of this case to further their political ends.

      The mother claiming she thought her daughter had flu looks to me to be lying to cover her butt. She knows what she did was illegal but feels no guilt because of her sick religion, so is lying to cover herself and the religion. She probably thinks if God chose not to save her, she deserved to die.

      The cases where children suffer because of their parents’ religion are the ones that upset me the most. The one I’ve been looking at lately is women in Kenya refusing the tetanus vaccine because the Catholic Church has told them it’s a plot to sterilize them. In the meantime, babies die in agony from an entirely preventable cause.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        It’s heart breaking. The state shouldn’t be trying to win the love of a group of people. It should be protecting lives. This, in my opinion, is one of the duties of the state. Canada’s rights and freedoms include, “security of the person”. Where is this child’s security when the state has de facto condemned her to death?

        • Brad Foley
          Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          While in the main completely agreeing with the comments here, there is the issue that First Nations have a certain degree of the right of self governance in Canada, and this implies a right to make some of their own mistakes. I don’t actually think this is a religious issue at all, in terms of law. There is in fact parallels with adoption and parental rights for some indigenous tribes in the States, where the tribe has more say over custody and adoption than the state government.

          This is also not because of “guilt”, since for the most part indigenous tribes or nations never chose to become American or Canadian. This is in fact less autonomy than they ever chose, short of violent coercion, in negotiations with American or Canadian governments.

          It was clearly a stupid, tragic outcome in practice, but the legal basis for it is probably sound.

          • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            There may be clear law about this, but the law is wrong, and should be changed. Self-governance, to me, doesn’t mean that these people have the right to kill their kids. And I doubt that if one of them committed a terrible crime, the Canadian government would allow the first Nations to completely deal with the situation.

            • Ken McKeen
              Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

              Canadian courts for decades have held the best interest of the child as paramount over all other considerations. The interests of the parent, the group or the state have always been secondary to the welfare of the child. This ruling throws that away and elevates First Nation sovereignty above the individual needs of children. I don’t see any legal basis to support the ruling. Someone needs to appeal.

          • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            The area this woman is from has nothing to do with self government. I’m very familiar with the Six Nations res. She was quoted as saying the same things aboriginals always say, which is “I don’t recognize Canada’s courts.” I’m sure she does now, however, because the court ruled in her favour. There is a definite fear right now in Canada of offending First Nations. There was a march across Canada because of reservation conditions, there have been murders of aboriginal women. All this is big in the news. Moreover, I don’t think it is at all a sound legal judgment. In fact, I think it is paternalistic if not borderline racist as the courts have ruled it was fine to force a white JW to receive life saving treatment against her wishes, but an aboriginal can die for the same reasons. Paternalistic if not racist. It’s time to stop treating aboriginals as children.

            • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

              It is paternalism, and racist. I’ve found the same thing with the Kenyan situation – there are a whole lot of US websites prepared to assume the Kenyan government is embarked on a mass sterilisation campaign in collusion with WHO and UNICEF, imo, just because it’s not a nice white country.

            • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

              Also, as you (Diana McPherson) have pointed out, the treatment to be carried out is not a traditional First Nations one anyway. They have got approval to use woo in Florida over real medicine. Activists have made this into a First Nations one when that shouldn’t even be relevant in this case.

          • jay
            Posted November 16, 2014 at 6:41 am | Permalink

            “This is also not because of “guilt”, since for the most part indigenous tribes or nations never chose to become American or Canadian. ”

            Well other than people of immigrate, NONE of us ‘chose’ our nationality. That is a BS excuse.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      “Guilt over First Nations.”

      Yes, that is exactly what I thought too. As you and Heather Hastie have said, I think this guilt from past atrocities and fear of accusations of racism or assimilation are the reasons behind this ruling. From what I know, protecting a child’s health and well-being would trump any other considerations in a Canadian court, except in this type of instance unfortunately.

  5. Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    if we, in the US, can finally start prosecuting these nuts, i wonder if we’ll ever be able to extend this to anti-vaxxers, science deniers and other quacks.

  6. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    I am sorry to report that Canada got it wrong long ago. In a type one diabetes faith healing case a child died. The parents defended against a manslaughter accusation by pointing out that they lacked criminal intent. The Supreme Court of Canada approved of this argument in R. c. Tutton, [1989] 1 RCS 1392.

    The Court decided that religion can dumb you down to the point where criminal intent becomes quite impossible. This is saying something as normally cretinism and crime are very good bedfellows. One has only to think of the holocaust or Isis.

  7. Sastra
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I think the over-emphasis on “respect” for religion and the ways of other cultures is being compounded by the idea that “science” is a fluid term, shifting and changing according to who uses it and how. In this framework, there’s no one “science” that applies to everyone: that’s judgmental, insensitive, and an imposition. There are many sciences.

    Science is only a theory. Be broad-minded. Respect diversity.

    So the same sorts of cases come up without any specific religious or aborigine baggage. Parents are using alternative medicine and claim their legal and moral right to choose from “alternatives.” They draw from popular tropes about parental duties and medical conspiracies and different, better, more natural and gentle ways of “healing.”

    What all 3 situations (faith healing, tribal healing, alt med healing) have in common is that when the sh*t hits the fan the judge and jury are looking at bereaved moms and dads who meant well. The average person has trouble placing “epistemic neglect” into the same pile of “parental neglect” which includes parents passed-out from bar-hopping while the kiddies are locked in a closet crying for food. The well-meaning parents who use unscientific nonsense are usually anxious, hovering, and super-focused on their well-loved child. So it’s not “neglect” neglect, you see? They meant well.

    In a sense it’s even worse — but that’s a hard sell in a world which likes to think that the more ‘faith’ you have, the better a person you will be, and that having good intentions excuses too much.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      And don’t forget live in a democracy with a free market. How wrong of us to disallow someone the freedom to be a good consumer and select their treatment.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        Yes, the Libertarian argument. The Health Freedom Movement. If quackery doesn’t work, then the free market will soon eliminate it.

        Which it never has. Not only are health and medicine too full of confounding factors for individuals to reliably “decide for themselves” what works and what doesn’t, but many useless therapies have built up a strong network of immunizing strategies (“This is spiritual!”) which continually allows them to get away with … well, murder.

        • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          The free market is not a valid concept in health in my opinion because those needing care are usually not free to choose and in the cases they are, they are vulnerable. It’s another thing I’ve got in the pipeline to write about.

          • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

            It shouldn’t be but oddly it is, even where there is universal healthcare. I like it when it comes to choosing your doctor; I hate it when it comes to treating children with quackery. The solution, I think, is arresting quacks for fraud.

            • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

              I’d love to see that. I don’t know how so many get away with it.

    • Posted November 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

      I am sorry but I must disagree with the notion that these parents meant well. The statistics are there for everyone to see- in this case 95% likelihood of survival versus 0%. What is actually going on here is an act of the ultimate selfishness. The parents think that they themselves can make it into heaven by following a primitive set of rules, and they are willing to sacrifice their children to achieve that result for themselves. In this, they are no more civilized than “religious” people in the past who practiced human sacrifice- killing someone else to insure their own good fortune.

      • Sastra
        Posted November 17, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        I disagree because I think you are underestimating how tight and insular most faith-healing communities are. Even those which interact with the world still carry around a sense of being an Outsider among the foolish. Once you’re inside of one of them all the statistics are distorted and positive anecdotes fly around the echo chamber till there’s a self-confirming loop of what people “know” about medicine, healing, and the power of prayer. Couple that with a mindset which accepts a narrative of conspiracies, tests of faith, and ultimate judgment between the Saved and the Damned and ordinary, well-meaning people who care just as much about their children as other people do can watch their child die “despite” their best efforts.

        If there’s an additional belief that a child who dies when faith is used will merit special love from God then it’s a powderkeg of Dangerous Idea.

        I’m not saying there aren’t parents who are deliberately ‘sacrificing’ their children for selfish reasons. But religion is very, very good at justifying an All Is Well view of anything done for faith. I suspect many if not most parents have successfully deluded themselves into a religious storyline and do indeed “mean well.”

  8. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Look at those state exemptions – 37 of them. That is where the problem lies as well for this country. These exemptions are or should be unconstitutional and they get lots of people killed.

    They also end up leaving the authority during the critical time (when someone needs care) up to lawyers and judges. Just proves once again that religion is always wrong.

    • tomh
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      “Look at those state exemptions – 37 of them. That is where the problem lies as well for this country”

      It’s true that the state laws are the proximate cause of the problems, but the root cause lies in federal law, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, (CAPTA). While CAPTA includes, among minimum child abuse standards (in order to receive federal assistance), the “withholding of medical care,” it goes on to state, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.” This is what allows states to pass such exemptions, many taking the words verbatim from the federal law.

      • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        True, but the states can themselves overrule any religious exemptions, as some have done. It’s lobbying by Christian Scientists and others that have kept exemption laws in place despite the fact that they’re no longer required to get Federal aid.

        The fact is that legislators in the states are what have kept exemption laws going, while the fact that they’re legal is buttressed by CAPTA. The states could still prohibit religious exemptions if they wanted.

        • tomh
          Posted November 15, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          Oh, absolutely, it’s on the states, they’re the ones that institute the legal exemptions. But removing that line from CAPTA would go a long way towards solving the issue. It can be done state by state – as you mention above, we did it here in Oregon. Until 1998 Oregon had one of the broadest religious exemptions from homicide laws in the country, as a result of which no one was ever prosecuted, and faith-healing churches have cemeteries filled with infants. Since then, there have been several high-profile convictions of parents who allowed kids to die.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted November 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

            Until 1998 Oregon had one of the broadest religious exemptions from homicide laws in the country, as a result of which no one was ever prosecuted, and faith-healing churches have cemeteries filled with infants. Since then, there have been several high-profile convictions of parents who allowed kids to die.

            But, is the rate going down, or are the prosecutions being an ineffective deterrent?
            I’d suspect that the rate is continuing much the same, and that deterrence isn’t working. Because the offenders are either convinced that they’re doing the right thing, or that they’re not going to be caught.

  9. Les
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses even celebrated the children who died while live saving treatment was withheld. Here is a 1990s cover from Awake! magazine, trying to encourage more parents to act likewise.

    • Nicolas Perrault
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      I wish these children could be “awoken”.

      • bacopa
        Posted November 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

        And they aren’t even in blissful Heaven according to Witnesses. They believe that there is no afterlife until the end of the current world. At that time a core of JW’s be resurrected to become the Heavenly Choir in direct communion with God while the rest of the saved (all JW’s in good standing, many other Christians, some Muslims who thought a lot about Prophet Isa) will be resurrected into immortal bodies to live in an Edenic Earth.

        OTOH, at least they don’t believe in Hell. The soul traces of the unworthy are simply destroyed.

        I know all this because my grandmother became a Witness when her husband died. He was an atheist. I think she listened to the JW’s because they told her that her hubby wasn’t in eternal torment.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Someone has posted that here before – sorry I can’t remember if it was you. This cover is one of the sickest things I have ever seen in my life. It’s celebrating torture and murder in the name of a mythical being.

      This makes ‘Religion Poisons Everything’ a major understatement.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      That is truly disgusting. They call that religion, but pictures of beautiful naked adults having intercourse is called pornography. This is why we say we “descended” from line we share with chimps: we are beneath them.

  10. BillyJoe
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the real killer:

    http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAcQjRw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.imref.org%2Fboard.php%3Fboard%3DClement&ei=gqRnVKfKF8HEmAWA_IKQCQ&bvm=bv.79142246,d.dGY&psig=AFQjCNF7dSy6iI39mauYA9r8S-0InfTn1w&ust=1416164864804295

    Brian Clement passes himself off as a naturopath but it seems he does not even have any legitimate qualifications as a naturopath. Which, of course, is besides the point because naturopathy is almost completely non evidence-based.

    Brian Clement has held meetings in these aboriginal communities promoting his treatments. There is a video of him telling them, without any evidence at all, that he can 100% cure stage four cancer. Chemotherapy offers an evidence-based 90-95% chance of cure for this young girl.

    Brian Clement is the real killer here.
    Without treatment, leukaemia is uniformly fatal. Andf this young girl is effectively getting no treatment. And Brian Clement should be held responsible for her death when it inevitably occurs.

    Religion was really just used as an legal loop hole in this case. And, yes, that loop hole should be closed.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I link to a CBC story about this quack in #4 as well. He should be jailed for fraud and homicide.

  11. codemonkeysteve
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “Traditional healer” must be Canadian for “witch-doctor”.

  12. microraptor
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    That conviction only happened because there have been a number of very high profile cases where children died of easily treatable conditions in Oregon in the last decade, including an 18 month old. Finally, after the 5th or 6th time Oregonians finally wised up, stopped being so tolerant, and actually stopped acquitting when one of these families went to trial.

    • microraptor
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      And sub.

  13. Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m just glad that the mothers of these children did not use birth control or abort before viability, because either of those would have been unforgivable sins that would damn them to eternal hellfire.

    Believers love that joke about the guy on his roof during a flood who refuses the help of police and firefighters, yet God’s punchline – “Whaddya mean I didn’t try to save you? I sent the police, I sent the firefighters …” – is utterly wasted on them. I would remark that it may be natural selection at work if it weren’t for the innocence of the children, and also of the brainwashed parents WHO COULD NOT HAVE CHOSEN OTHERWISE, which is too horrible to joke about.

    I am confident society will come around on this, but it’s going to take way, way too long.

    Sorry to go on and on but I’m a dad! I’m pretty sure giving your kids narcotics, starving them or beating them “excessively” (as if any beating were acceptable), even on religious grounds, will get them taken away. The exception for denying medical treatment is bizarre and disgusting. That medical associations don’t campaign vociferously against this is hard to understand.

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      In quite a few countries, including mine (NZ), kids in this situation are made temporary wards of the court, and thus the treatment is given.

      • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        This is what the hospital was asking the courts to do in this case. McMaster Children’s Hospital wanted the courts to compel Children’s Aid of Brant to force the child back into chemotherapy treatment and they would do so by seizing the child.

        I suspect the idea of ceasing an aboriginal child was distasteful to the judge, given the dark history of such things for nefarious reasons, but that doesn’t mean he ruled correctly as the child’s welfare should be paramount.

        • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Yes, Canada usually has an excellent record in these situations. One of the best.

        • merilee
          Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          I believe you mean seizing, Diana. They are trying to prevent the child from ceasing…Very sad.

        • Posted November 15, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          The court’s unstated reasoning makes sense to me: what could be more not-racist than letting an aboriginal child die an agonizing death?

    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I wonder too if the state disliked the idea of taking an aboriginal child away from her home, given the history of this happening for nefarious reasons.

      Of course, this is all noise, drowning out the real problem: a parent electing to kill her child with quackery.

      • Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        I think these two points hit the nail on the head.

  14. Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    In the UK, the child is made a ward of court and the court authorises necessary treatment. But that doesn;t help if the situation isn;t discovered in time. Moreover, if a child as young as 12 demonstrates understanding but refuses treatment, their wishes must in law be respected.

  15. Patricia
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    This is not, & has never been just a U.S. problem! Patricia BC Canada

  16. ladyatheist
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    Bad parenting isn’t a “right” no matter what the cause!

  17. Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    As the saying goes, the dose makes the poison. There is a point at which the celebration of diversity and multiculturalism becomes pathological.

    One gets the impression defenders of the pathological variety exchange high-fives every time a middle-eastern woman is taped and subsequently stoned, or every time a child succumbs to treatable yet untreated illness.

  18. Dave
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    This kind of thing infuriates me. If these “First Nations” people dressed entirely in buckskin, lived in tepees, travelled to their court hearings on a dog sled and communicated their views to the world using smoke signals, then I might be able to feel some sympathy for their cultural sensitivities. When they get around by automobile or aircraft, call their lawyers on cellphones and post their anti-science diatribes on the world wide web, then I’m sorry, I cannot take their position seriously. If that makes me a racist, then so be it. I’m not willing to accede to their children’s deaths in the name of multiculturalism.

    • Michael Hart
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      I think one can (1) value many parts of the culture of First Nations people in Canada, and (2) deplore the attempt by European colonists (like my own ancestors) to wipe out that culture, and (3) understand how that effort has led to some “cultural sensitivities”, without also (4) accepting the use of woo to treat childhood leukemia.

      Similarly, one can point out the cognitive dissonance of anyone (First Nations or not) who adopts 21st century technology alongside stone-age mysticism. But there is no need to self-identify as a racist (or to put First Nations in scare quotes) to do so.

      Multiculturalism in Canada has some difficulties, including the limited integration of some members of recent immigrant communities; in some of those communities there has been only slow adoption of one of Canada’s majority languages (English, French). However, First Nations are not recent immigrants (that would be everyone else, including me, and perhaps including Dave), and First Nations people were forcibly integrated into the majority Western culture so effectively that many of them lost their traditional languages. So the persistence of bad ideas like woo-ish healing traditions in some First Nations communities is hardly a multiculturalism problem.

      That problem of persistent bad ideas will not be solved by righteous infuriation or caricaturing of First Nations people. It might be solved in part by clear strong criticism. Jerry’s OP is based on legitimate criticism of bad ideas involving traditional healing woo. I agree with that criticism, and with the OP. But as many commenters on many other threads here have emphasized, it’s important to specifically criticize the bad ideas inherent in harmful religious traditions, and to avoid generalized criticism of the people who hold those bad ideas. They are just people like us, trying to make their way in the world, and if they have bad ideas (about woo) then maybe we can help them by suggesting better ideas (like medicine). I’m pretty sure they don’t need snark about smoke signals.

  19. Dave
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, the costs of a faith healer – as long as it’s a Christian Science faith healer – can be claimed against your FSA (a pre-tax savings account for medical expenses here in the US) and, I believe, as a deduction from income for tax purposes, in general, subject to the usual rules!!

    • tomh
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      In addition, a number of Christian Science nursing facilities are Medicare providers, reimbursed by our taxes. CS nursing facilities rely solely on prayer and readings from the Bible, along with the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.

  20. h2ocean
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I think Canada is very quick to decide against the parents when they are Christian, but tend to dance around it a bit more when they are Aboriginal because of sensitivities due to a long history is issues there. We don’t have a great track record of treating Aboriginals well in Canada, and into the 50s (maybe 60s even?) children were forced into English schools and assimilated. It is a black mark on Canadian history and I think that explains the reaction here. Doesn’t justify it though. Aboriginal nonsense is no different than Christian nonsense if it is denying kids proper medical treatment.

  21. merilee
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Reading that article in the Globe this morning ruined my breakfast! That’s child abuse.

  22. Posted November 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I live in Oregon, and at least a few years ago, we had a higher proportion of non-religious people per capita than any other US state. In general it’s very secular. Thank goodness we at least got this one right.

    As for the Canadian case, it’s just another example of the mistaken attitude many people have that non-Western superstitious nonsense deserves more respect than Western superstitious nonsense.

    “We oppressed your ancestors, so to make amends, we’ll give your children less protection against stupid avoidable death” makes no sense as a national policy.

  23. Posted November 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  24. Posted November 15, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just had a read of some of the State Religious Exemptions in the link Jerry provided. You could mutilate your daughter via FGM and not be prosecuted in some states.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 16, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      You could mutilate your daughter via FGM and not be prosecuted in some states.

      Really? No, really?

      • boggy
        Posted November 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

        In the UK you can abort a female fetus but only if the parents are of Indian or Chinese ethnicity.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          Citation needed.
          Aborting a foetus on the basis of gender is illegal in the UK. You’d have to indulge in some serious bribery and corruption to get it done. It would be much cheaper and simpler to take the woman out of the country to one with a more malleable legal system and have the abortion performed there. But even then, you’ve got a pretty good chance of the case coming to light if the woman had been to inform her GP about the pregnancy.

          • boggy
            Posted November 17, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29891005
            The report states that gender-selective abortions are illegal but carried out mainly on families of Indian nationality

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted November 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              And a considerable number of those would be carried out outside the UK.
              As the report you cite points out, gender-selective abortions per se are illegal. There may be cases that are being hinted about as if certain doctors are unduly free about authorising such cases. But the report also states that doctors authorising an abortion must be prepared to justify their decisions. So there may be an issue of enforcement, but that is something that the Police and/ or BMA should be addressing.
              If there were (say) a Chinese and an Indian (ethnically) doctor colluding as is hinted in the report, then I really doubt that they’d deny a gender-selective abortion to (say) an Argentinian couple who wanted to get rid of the girl. Or, for that matter to an American couple who turned up wanting to get rid of the girl. It’s a case of criminality, and the ethnicities involved are likely pretty marginal to the corrupt doctors assisting this practice.
              Similarly, there are continuing allegations of FGM being carried out in the UK, by UK doctors. I believe there are also prosecutions in progress. Which is an indication that there are criminals who are also doctors, but not that FGM (or gender-specific abortion) is legal in the UK.

  25. Posted November 15, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Since the child is in Florida, U.S. courts now have jurisdiction. While Florida statute allows for a religious exemption from prosecution for child negelect, it also gives courts the power to order needed medical care.

  26. Reg
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I hesitate to write this as it will likely be seen as my supporting the choices made by the two families, and unnecessarily log (my apologies) but here goes anyway.

    Historically a lot of nasty and stupid things were done to the First Nations for no good reason other than we were “right” often backed up by religious claims and we had the armed force necessary to back up that belief.

    Over time we’ve realized that we did nasty and stupid things and have tried to find a way to right that. One thing we’ve done is to try and recreate some form of self-government for First Nations and even gone so far as to roughly enshrine that in the Canadian Constitution.

    In Canada we made a lot of bad bargains as we brought provinces and groups into Confederation. We added Catholic school systems, protected French rights without defining what the rights were exactly, later with Newfoundland we also added Protestant and Pentecostal school systems to the Catholic system. There are divisions of responsibilities such that there can never be any sort of national educational plan, and depending on which province you live in you may get medical treatments covered that would not be covered in others.

    In 1982 we acknowledged First Nations rights in the Constitutional document we repatriated from the UK, with the understanding that we would describe them in detail in the next round of constitutional discussions. Those discussions never happened because Quebec didn’t ratify the 1982 repatriation and the 2 subsequent constitutional discussions failed to correct that problem, leaving First Nations constitutional discussions on hold indefinitely.

    So here in Canada we’re caught between respecting the sovereignty of another government (as we expect Russia to do in Ukraine or the Arab states to do with Israel) and wanting to “fix” things that we see wrong with First Nations (financial abuses by leaders, unemployment, inadequate housing, addiction, etc)

    But since we never got to clarifying how the relationship is supposed to work between Canada and the First Nations, the courts have to interpret the sovereignty issue in broad terms, just as they would if some of us in Canada suddenly decided that we should take charge of US children because the private nature of the US medical system might leave them exposed to some health risks if they lack insurance or funds.

    I think it’s ridiculous to claim that Eastern European fasting treatments are First Nations traditional medicine, and might support an argument for treating the child based on an inability to provide the care described in the court order, but as we respect other nations, we have to respect the arrangements we’ve made with the First Nations, until we finally get the moral courage to sit down and draw up a new relationship that benefits everyone.

    • John
      Posted November 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      first and foremost we need to respect the right to life of the child. The rights of parents, nations, states, customs, governments must surely come second to the child’s right to receive the most effective treatment. If a group decided to reinstate the right to child sacrifice would it be allowed? To my mind this child is no less being sacrificed on the alter of political correctness and contrived guilt for the misguided actions of earlier generations.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 17, 2014 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        I do like Reg’s reminder, however, that the US is hardly lily white with issues of child health, either.

        “…just as they would if some of us in Canada suddenly decided that we should take charge of US children because the private nature of the US medical system might leave them exposed to some health risks if they lack insurance or funds.”

  27. boggy
    Posted November 16, 2014 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I know an Irish woman who has a daughter with T1 diabetes. Both grannies came to the mother and said she’should let the Good lord take her so she could be a little angel in heaven’.
    Fortunately she ignored their ‘advice’.

  28. Posted November 16, 2014 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    I agree that this is a serious problem, whether religious or ‘ethnic’ sensitivities (do a see a parallel with the accommodation to Muslim law (Sharia) in Western Europe?).
    There can be a discussion in how much parents should be allowed to indoctrinate their children one way or the other, but I think the boundaries of acceptability are clearly overstepped here.
    Children are supposed to be unable to judge their situation by law, hence the law should protect them from being put in a situation that will harm or -in case- kill them.
    How do they say? I sub 100%.
    Here in South Africa we have a comparable problem with traditional male circumcision and the accompanying rites. Every year dozens of young boys die because of starvation, unclean circumcision knives, and there is no statistic of how many get infected with HIV during these practices, where the same uncleaned knife is used for a series of cuttings.

    (Although I disagree with Muth that heterosexual sex is not an important spreader of HIV, he does have a point that there are many other ways of transmission) (but I fear I’m digressing again, please forgive me Jerry, I’ve realised I’m prone to digress, maybe part of my personality?).

  29. Posted November 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    After birth, all children should be protected from harm through mistreatment, whether active or inactive, by all other human beings. If an adult believes in faith healing and wants to use that in lieu of medicine, they can make that mistaken choice for him/herself. But, they should not be able to impose it on their children.

    • John
      Posted November 16, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      precisely… is it acceptable for a parent to withhold food and water? absolutely not, so withholding proper treatment that is based on scientifically proven medicine is not acceptable either. The Canadians are in danger of underwriting all sorts of despicable practices based on cultural sensitivities. FGM next?

  30. steven graeme
    Posted November 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Is it relevant to the Canadian case that Judge Gethin Edward is a direct descendant of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant? Would a Judge who was a Jehovah’s Witness be appointed to preside over a case involving refusal of blood transfusion treatment for a minor? If the child dies will the repercussions be different for a native judge versus a non-native judge?

  31. demfromsc
    Posted November 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you that treating one’s children with “faith-healing” should be a crime. And I also believe that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children should be prosecuted; not only are they potentially harming their kids’ health, they are also endangering other people’s children.


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  2. […] following case earlier but I was so annoyed that I was completely unmotivated to do so. Happily, Jerry Coyne wrote about it at WEIT but I’ll add my thoughts here as well. I am of course talking about the case of a First […]

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