Child's death raises new opposition to prayer-only treatment

At present, 45 states offer some legal accommodations in child-protection laws for parents who choose to use spiritual healing, according to the Christian Science church. Such laws, to one degree or another, allow parents to rely on prayer, rather than traditional medical treatment, to heal their children when they become ill. However, the recent death from diabetes of an 11-year-old Wisconsin girl has stirred up opposition to such laws, bringing calls for Wisconsin and dozens of other states to rescind laws permitting this approach.

In recent cases like these, the parents are facing criminal charges despite laws allowing prayer treatment. For example, the parents of the girl, Dale and Leilani Neumann of Weston, Wis., are facing charges of second-degree reckless homicide after their child, Madeline Kara Neumann, died after slipping into a coma that probably could have been prevented by insulin treatment. In another case, where a 15-month-old Oregon child died from a form of pneumonia and a blood infection after her parents tried to heal her with prayer, the parents have been charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment.

Spurred by incidents like these, state lawmakers have begun to challenge faith-healing options for parents. For example, Maryland lawmakers in 2005 repealed part of a law protecting parents from losing custody of their children if they withheld medical treatment due to their religious beliefs. The same year, Maine legislators amended laws regarding religious treatment, repealing part of its family law stating that children couldn't automatically be considered abused because they were treated by spiritual means. More recently, a Massachusetts bill that would have protected parents who used prayer instead of traditional medical treatment failed to pass.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this Wall Street Journal article

Related Articles:
Church wants exemption from MA law requiring mandatory health coverage
Study finds no link between prayer and healing
Christian Scientists argue for faith-based healing in California

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