Death by faith healing: In Idaho, children die of easily treatable illness, because parents can martyr their children for their faith, choosing prayer over modern medicine without fear of legal consequence.
Christian extremists are flocking to Idaho because adults can deny children needed medical care if they say it’s for religious reasons. The result is that children needlessly suffer and even die.
Yet Republicans who run the show in Idaho refuse to change the law.
Currently a religious shield law protects parents who claim to be acting out of religious faith, so when a child dies in Idaho due to lack of medical care, faith healing parents are not held accountable.
Idaho statute 18-1501 protects practitioners of faith healing. It reads:
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.
Currently there is a modest proposal handed down by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to add language to statute 18-1501. It reads: “Unless the child is harmed or sickened or dies.”
However, Republicans in Idaho are refusing to sponsor or back this modest measure that would offer children a little protection from parents or guardians driven by irrational and dangerous religious extremism.
Republican Lee Heider is the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and does not support changing the law to protect children . Heider said:
I believe the law is pretty straightforward. We would encourage them to seek medical care. But we don’t force people to seek medical care and whether it’s because they can’t afford it or in this case because of their heart felt religious belief we simply don’t do that.
Idaho Republicans like Heider are protecting Christian extremists like the Followers of Christ Church, a notorious collection of small and secretive Christian fundamentalist congregations that make a habit of watching their children die rather than seek medical attention. The church teaches that modern medicine should be shunned in favor of prayer, and the consequences of church doctrine have been tragic: the preventable deaths of many innocent children.
The church preaches faith-healing and rejects modern medicine in favor of prayer and other spiritual practices such as anointing the sick with oil. The church is notorious for allowing sick children to suffer and even die rather than seeking medical attention.
Linda Martin grew up in the Followers of Christ Church, and has been fighting to appeal Idaho’s dangerous law. Martin notes:
It’s not Stage 4 cancer (that’s killing children). It’s pneumonia you’re talking about an antibiotic… diabetes maybe a small shot of insulin or a pill… food poisoning… dehydration… fever.
I’ve spoken to several legislators, and there’s been no plan on presenting a bill.
Previously Idaho Rep. Christy Perry (R) claimed faith-healing parents have a First Amendment right to deny medical care to their children on religious grounds, arguing that they are perhaps more comfortable confronting the death of their children.
Children do die. I’m not trying to sound callous, but (reformers) want to act as if death is an anomaly. But it’s not — it’s a way of life.
Perry, apparently trying to justify the hideous act of allowing a child to die due to lack of medical attention, added:
They are comforted by the fact that they know their child is in heaven. If I want to let my child be with God, why is that wrong?
Perry’s words are perverse and despicable. To allow a child to die so as to be with an imaginary god is beyond abuse, it is madness.
Child advocate Marci A. Hamilton sums up the dismal situation for children in Idaho:
Idaho has become a destination for believers who use faith only to treat illness and whose children, therefore, die in stunningly large numbers from easily treatable illnesses. The state’s religious exemption for medical neglect and its extreme religious liberty statute make Idaho a haven for parents who would martyr their children for their faith. This is not what the Framers intended or what the First Amendment requires. The blood of these children is on the hands of the state legislators who continue to fail to make Idaho a safe haven for its children because of irrational deference to parents and faith.
Bottom line: The Idaho justice system fails to protect children from faith healing parents, and fails to punish negligent parents who choose to substitute prayer for medical treatment.
Children should not be made to suffer for their parents ignorance and superstition. By failing to act, Idaho Republicans put children at risk.