Eliminating the Faith-Healing Exemptions in Wisconsin

After several unfortunate child deaths due to negligent parents who turned to God instead of doctors, Wisconsin legislators are trying to do something about it.

Wisconsin, incidentally, is the state in which Madeline Kara Neumann died.

Currently, Wisconsin law (948.03(6)) allows an exemption for parents who kill their child because of failed faith healing:

A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing permitted under s. 48.981 (3) (c) 4. or 448.03 (6) in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

It has a lot to do with Christian Scientists, who pushed for the exemption decades ago.

Two lawmakers have proposed different changes to that law.

Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has proposed a measure that would allow Prayer Parents to essentially present a criminal defense — their actions could be considered reasonable depending on “whether the parent should have known the condition was life-threatening, the risks and side effects of medical treatment and the family’s prior experiences with spiritual healing.”

It’s better than the current law, but it would be *really* tough to prosecute Prayer Parents with this measure.

Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) has proposed a measure that would omit the current exemption I mentioned above. Child welfare workers could cite faith healing as an example of abuse/neglect. The court could intervene in cases like Daniel Hauser and require medical treatment in certain situations.

Berceau’s bill (LRB-2190) is stronger and allows for necessary intervention.

“The bottom line to me is that no child should ever die because a parent didn’t take them to a doctor when a reasonable parent would have known it was a life-threatening condition,” [Berceau] said. “No child should have to die because of a parent’s religion.”

Matthew Pickard is a Wisconsin resident who has looked into both proposed bills. He agrees that Berceau’s bill is clearly superior:

I contacted both Taylor’s and Berceau’s office, attempting to secure a draft of each others competing legislation respectively. Only Berceau office has responded so far, and frankly, I strongly approve of the language of Berceau’s bill.

In short, LRB-2190 aims to repeal state statue 948.03 (6). Presently, if a parent or legal guardian treats a minor only through prayer (or other spiritual means) and bodily harm, or death should result, there are no penalties or liabilities. With its repeal, this exception will be eliminated. The bill will also amend 448.03 (6) defining that only an adult who practices Christian Science may treat themselves with faith healing or prayer, and not just a “person.” Furthermore, the bill will eliminate two other exceptions, by amending 48.981 (3) and 938.505 (2) (a) thereby ending these privileges altogether.

Pickard urges Wisconsin residents to contact their legislators and ask them to support LRB-2190.

It’s an important issue and I hope you’ll consider doing it. It’s in the best interest of children who are dying at the hands of their misguided parents.

(via The Hypatian Shore)

  • SarahH

    I agree with Pickard, and while I don’t live in Wisconsin, I hope its residents and legislators do what it takes to get rid of these exemptions.

  • http://www.freewebs.com/guitarsean Sean

    Huzza for my home state. It’s about time.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com John

    E-mailed my rep. Quoth I (in part):

    I know that freedom of religion is essential to this state and this nation, as it is important to allow the marketplace of ideas to operate freely. But, as we know, all rights are limited by the extent to which they infringe on others’ rights. This is especially true when a particular freedom, in this case religion, infringes on another’s very basic rights to health and life, which trump all others. A child’s right to health and life absolutely trumps a parent’s freedom of religion, with no exceptions.

    Probably more explanatory than necessary, but one can never be too careful.

  • Alx-Nichole

    Thank you Wisconsin, now time to spread it across the country. I find this exeption very irresposible because it endangers the lives of the person and everyone around them. This is the reason why diseases like mumps, measles and whooping cough are depleted. My mother is a cancer patient with a weak immune system and caught whooping cough from a Christian Scientist at a gas station. It’s time to take action.

  • http://thehappyhuman.wordpress.com jtradke

    Woohoo! My rep (well, a clerk) just e-mailed back and he said added himself as a cosponsor to the bill!


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