Saturday, April 5, 2008

Living And Dying Off A Prayer, Part I

By now, most, if not all, of you should have heard of the tragic case of Madeline Kara Neumann. She was the 11 year old girl that was allowed to die from untreated diabetes. There is currently a number of viewpoints being put out there, regarding whether or not the parents should be charged.

The problem comes up with the current State Laws. When I worked in foster care, the rules was plainly laid out in Wisconsin State Statute 48.13 (10):

Whose parent, guardian or legal custodian neglects, refuses or is unable for reasons other than poverty to provide necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care or shelter so as to seriously endanger the physical health of the child.
The following causes also cover times when there is reasonable cause to believe that such neglect could occur, and if the parent, guardian or legal custodian fails to get psychiatric and/or alcohol and drug rehab for the child.

However, in the years since I've worked in that field, a new law has been added. This law allows parents to eschew common sense and medical practice and to allow prayer to be the only option. This would be fine for a consenting adult. It is an entirely other matter when it involves a dependent, like a child. This is not acting in the best interest of the child, which is the sole basis for Chapter 48.

People are all over the map with this one.

3rd way, over at folkbum's, comes down that the parents should be charged, and shows us how scary people can get with their beliefs.

Tim Schilke, writing at GMToday, goes along with charging the parents for neglect. He also explores how this relates to recent cases of child abuse stemming from religious beliefs.

Owen Robinson contradicts himself by saying that the parents should be charged, but then defends the law that would prevent them from being charged.

Our own PaddyMac waffles on the whole thing, then tries to distract us by saying, "Yeah, but, what about those unmarried people?". He fails to recognize how his own argument is weakened by the fact that Madeline's parents were married. (For the record, Paddy is correct that there is a higher correlation between unmarried parents and child abuse. However, being unmarried cannot be used as an exemption to the law, as he advocates regarding prayer.)

Matt Jividen, writing for the Daily Cardinal, brings in other thorny issues, related to the matter, but says it very well with this:
This prayer stipulation is a sticking point for many in the religious right, but I don’t understand how that jives with some of the religious right’s other stated platforms. In many cases, these are the same groups sparing no expense in their fight to protect the rights of an undeveloped bunch of cells in a woman’s womb, but will do nothing to protect that child from immense physical pain associated with untreated terminal illness once the fetus is born.

Pro-life and quality of life, apparently, are two separate issues. In many cases, these same groups will attempt to block the removal of a feeding tube from a terminally ill brain-dead woman, but will simultaneously stand behind legislation which blocks the medical treatment of otherwise healthy children doomed by nothing more than being born to parents holding fundamentalist beliefs?

This is indeed a complex and delicate issue but one that demands action. First of all, we need to amend the law in a manner which typifies prayer-only therapy in children with serious medical problems as a matter of criminal neglect. Simultaneously, we must be careful not to undermine the rights of the vast majority of parents who are choosing what’s best for their own children. The decision to deny a child medical attention for religious reasons should be handled just as child abuse is in this country, and though that may be a dangerous door to open, I think it’s necessary. A nanny state? I don’t know, but at the very least we should start protecting the rights of the powerless who are suffering needlessly by no choice of their own. On the other hand, what consenting adults choose to do to or for themselves is a whole different matter.
As I personally see it, having worked in the system for a number of years, I agree whole-heartedly that the parents should be charged. I also strongly support that this law needs to repealed. But in all likelihood, the parents will have any criminal charges dropped, as long as they agree to a CHIPS (CHildren In need of Protection and Services) Order. If they would be charged, expect this to go all the way to the now activist-judge filled State Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. I've written pretty extensively on the legal and ethical issues raised by these kinds of cases (including in a book recently published by Oxford University Press). And, since I'm based at UW-Madison, I've commented on the Neumann case specifically in a number of different forums (including CNN).

    I won't drone on here, but if you're interested in learning more about the Neumann case (and the analogous Worthington case in Oregon), you might check out my "Religious Convictions" blog at: