Sacrificing Children on the Altar of Parents’ Fanatical Faith

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.

– Hebrews 11:17

This Easter Sunday, 11-year-old Kara Neumann of Weston, Wisconsin died of diabetic ketoacidosis, a curable condition. While Kara was bedridden suffering waves of nausea and vomiting and excessive thirst and could not talk, her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, knelt in prayer and refused to seek medical treatment.

Kara’s aunt called 911 from California and told the dispatcher that her niece was severely ill and that, “We’ve been trying to get [Leilani] to take Kara to the hospital for a week, a few days now . . . but she is very religious and is refusing.”

When Kara stopped breathing, her father’s faith weakened and he dialed 911. Following the ambulance to the hospital, Leilani called the prayer elders of the Unleavened Bread Ministry, an online church that shuns medical intervention, and asked them to pray that the Lord would raise her daughter up. Kara was pronounced dead at the hospital. Predictably, there was no resurrection in Weston, Wisconsin this Easter Sunday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin, who is investigating the death, told reporters that the Neumanns are “not crazy.” He went on to explain, “They believed up to the time she stopped breathing that she was going to get better. They just thought it was a spiritual attack. They believed that if they prayed enough she would get better . . . they said it was the course of action they would take again.”

Kara’s three siblings are staying with relatives until the investigation is completed, but Chief Vergin assured reporters, “There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see.” Vergin is correct . . . sort of. Refusing life-saving medical care to their remaining children as “the course of action they would take again” is not child abuse, it is premeditated negligent homicide.

Unfortunately, the death of a child at the praying hands of religious parents is not uncommon and is sanctioned by state and federal religious exemption laws. Under Wisconsin law, parents cannot be accused of child abuse or negligent homicide if they fervently believed prayer was the best treatment for a disease or life-threatening condition.

In 1986, seven-year-old Amy Hermanson of Sarasota, Florida died of diabetes because her mother and father’s religious beliefs forbade medical treatment. The parents were convicted of child abuse and third-degree murder. Florida’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1992.

In 1989, 11-year-old Ian Lundman of Independence, Minnesota died of diabetes because his mother and stepfather relied on prayer to cure him. Ian’s death was ruled a homicide and his parents were indicted. A district court dismissed the case because Minnesota’s religious exemption rule recognized prayer as medical treatment. Minnesota’s Appeals Court and Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

In 2003, federal legislation “sanctioned” the killing of children by religious parents in the “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.” The act requires that states receiving federal grant dollars must include “failure to provide medical treatment” in their definition of child neglect. However, to placate the powerful Christian Science lobby and other fundamentalist groups, legislators included the following caveat: “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.”

Only by a twisted, fundamentalist logic — pandered to by politicians — in the overly religious United States, which is one Supreme Court vote away from overturning Roe v. Wade in order to protect the rights of an undifferentiated bundle of cells in a woman’s womb, can thinking, feeling, trusting, loving children be allowed to suffer and die because of the fanatical religious beliefs of their parents . . .whether the child holds those beliefs or not.

It is unfortunate that parents, who obviously love their children, regard their faith in a god with a lousy track record for healing as unassailable, neither by the love nor by the trust of their children. Between 1975 and 1995, 172 children died in the United States because their parents refused medical treatment on religious grounds. 140 of those children died from conditions which medical science had a 90 percent track record of curing.

The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect concluded, “There are more children actually being abused in the name of God than in the name of Satan.” As Gerald Witt, mayor of Lake City, Florida, said about local faith-based deaths, “It may be necessary for some babies to die to maintain our religious freedoms. It may be the price we have to pay; everything has a price.”

But religious zealots need not pay the ultimate price of sacrificing their children on the altar of faith. It says so in the first book of their bible. “Abraham built an altar . . . and laid the wood . . . and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham . . . lay not thine hand upon the lad . . . for now I know that thou fearest God . . .” (Gen. 22:9-12).

Should parents decide to disregard both their god’s admonition against sacrificing children to prove a fanatical faith and society’s laws against homicide, they should be held accountable to a secular “higher power” in a court of law that does not accept the strength of a person’s religious belief as evidence of their guilt or innocence.

* Author’s note: The United States and Somalia are the only countries that have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Robert Weitzel is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. His essays regularly appear in The Capital Times in Madison, WI. He can be contacted at: robertweitzel@mac.com. Read other articles by Robert, or visit Robert's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mike said on April 1st, 2008 at 7:13am #

    The only thing more idiotic that relying on a supernatural being to right all wrongs is the belief system that purports the strong arm of the government can right all wrongs.

  2. David said on April 1st, 2008 at 7:44am #

    While I’m not supportive of prayer as a response to life threatening illness, a little perspective might be in order here. While the anecdotal list of dead children is heart breaking, could we not also create such a list of dead children who were the victims of our modern health care system? From hospital based drug resistant bacteria, to hospital mismanagement, to outright medical malpractice, thousands more die unnecessarily each year in our hospitals than from an overindulgence in prayer. Substituting a blind faith in prayer for a blind faith in modern medicine does not strike me as a great improvement.

  3. hp said on April 1st, 2008 at 8:27am #

    Both good points above. Mike and the fantasy of government as protector when in actuality government, in all its malicious and impersonal forms, is the #1 cause of death world wide the past couple of centuries. At least. A fanatical faith if there ever was one.
    And David is correct with negligence/accidents killing upwards of 100,000 each year while in the hospital. At least.
    One question: If a woman can have an abortion because ‘it’s my body,’ then why can’t I sell my eyes or kidneys?

  4. AaronG said on April 1st, 2008 at 4:48pm #

    I’ll back up hp and say great balanced comment by Mike. It takes courage to be balanced, particularly on a sensitive subject like the death of 172 innocent children in 20 years. The risk of bringing balance to any debate is the charge that “you don’t care about those 172 children who lost out on life”. However, although statistics can be cold and impersonal, the thousands quoted above that do die in hospital actually bring some reality to the situation. Even though some purport not to believe in a god, and that’s their right, they may need to analyze if they show a similar blind faith in the god Medical ‘Science’, which is by far all-knowing and, at times, an art, not a science. For instance, “I’d like you to swallow this pill, or have this operation, because studies (maybe funded by Pfizer) indicate that 67% of mice had a favourable reaction to the pill/operation” . Don’t mess with my body with those kind of stats, pal!

    Prayer is not going to bring that severed limb back, but medical ‘science’ cannot guarantee 100% of the time that a particular pill or operation will work, or that you will not contract staphylococci whilst in hospital.

    So, if you break your leg, get to the hospital quick and let the experts patch you up, but at the same time hold your breath, cross your fingers, play with your rosary beads, pray to Allah or God or Whoever that you won’t get complications. But for God’s sake, get medical help.

  5. hp said on April 1st, 2008 at 5:18pm #

    AaronG,
    thanks for reminding me. I agree. For God’s sake, get medical help.
    One other note, as gruesome, sad and inhuman though it may be, is a demonstration of the government’s own ultimate concern for the welfare of children.
    Remember Waco?

  6. Robert Weitzel said on April 1st, 2008 at 5:47pm #

    Look folks, I’ve refrained from getting involved in the discussion because I wrote the piece . . . but seriously, you have to admit that modern medical science has one hell of a better track record for curing any number of diseases and ailments and trauma than prayer alone. I would have died several times in my life had I relied on prayer . . . one was as simple as being severely dehydrated from a prolonged illness . . a two hour trip to the emergency room and some antibiotics and I was at work three days later . . . no amount of praying and faith in some invisible something-or-other would have allowed me to ingest enough fluids to keep me alive. Like Kara, I would have died . . but then it would have been my responsibility. I hesitated going to the hospital because I was just out of the military and in school and lacked insurance. But there came a point in the illness when there was no other rational choice . . . that is, if I wanted to live. My decision cost me some bucks . . . not my life.

    I’ve also had two lower back (disk) operations that gave me my active life back (running, biking, skiing) . . no amount of praying would have fixed my back or stopped the pain (pills helped) that would have eventually driven me crazy or turned me into a addict . . . not to mention being crippled at the age of 39.

    Okay, while I agree that there are thousands of people who die from medical mistakes . . . my father-in-law may very well be one who is headed that direction, consider the hundreds of million each year who are cured by medical science . . . sometimes very simple medical science. . .rehydration fluids. And then consider the hundreds of millions of people who prayed for a cure that never materialized. A year ago I watched as a friend of 35 years died from a brain tumor . . . everyone she knew (except perhaps me) was praying to the very same idea of a god . . and she died and all her husband (my closest friend) could say was “why does god let bad people live and take such a good woman” and her mother said ” that this whole thing has made me stop believing in a god “. . . . great job, god . . . I suppose he/she/it has a divine plan that is meant to be a mystery to my friend and his mother-in-law. Or maybe they just weren’t worthy of “god’s” help. But then neither were Kara’s parents. Poor Kara!!!

    You know what really baffles me? A person of true faith and trust in their idea of a god would never pray . . except maybe for catharsis . . . but never for intervention. Because if they truly believed that their idea of a god had a divine plan for them and if they had faith in that plan, they would never feel the need to pray. So then, there is an inverse relationship between a person’s true faith and the amount of time they spend in pray. The more they pray, the less faith they have. And sometimes that costs them their child’s life.

    So we can kill, and I mean kill, our children to prove “our” faith. It is about the parents and their “walk with the lord” not the child . . I assume Kara wanted most of all to live. But her parents had to prove to themselves and their friends that they were tight with their idea of the lord.

    It’s the 21st century folks . . yes, be skeptical of a diagnosis . . get a second or third opinion . . give your doctor hell if need be to get satisfaction and then hold them accountable in a court of law for malpractice (doctors don’t have exemptions from responsibility that religious parents do),and pray by all means, if you need the catharsis. . . but you really haven’t got a “prayer” without medical science.

  7. hp said on April 1st, 2008 at 7:32pm #

    Mr. Weitzel, I don’t see anyone here saying don’t seek medical help. I came right out and said do so, as did AaronG.
    Though Mike and David did not say directly to seek medical help, they did not say don’t seek help.
    Personally, although I avoid hospitals like the plague and rarely see a doctor, this is due to great health combined with terrible economics. When I have ever truly needed a doctor, I surely sought one.

  8. AaronG said on April 1st, 2008 at 11:36pm #

    Time and space doesn’t permit an in-depth analysis of the function of prayer as outlined in the Bible. Briefly, however, it is us humans who have mis-interpreted this communication forum between us and God, not God himself. We sometimes, especially and understandably in times of duress, consider it as a blank cheque (OK, there’s the spelling clue, I’m an Aussie!) For example, if I decide to pray for a Lamborghini (red one, please, on the driveway by tomorrow morning) and it doesn’t materialize, then assume that this prayer thing is a crock, is the avenue of prayer at fault, or is it my abuse of it? Anyway, why are my red Lamborghini desires any more important to God than a kid in Niger trying to fill his belly?

    The Bible actively encourages us to seek medical attention (however imperfect it is) – I’m sure the Bible writer and physician Luke would agree with me. Another Bible writer Paul told Timothy not to “drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Timothy 5:23). This is actually a good verse to stick on the wine cabinet when someone says you have had too much shiraz. You can reply “it’s not my fault, it’s my stomach ache”!

    (But if I pray for the destruction of the evil Anglo-American world power, now that’s another thing………….)

  9. hp said on April 2nd, 2008 at 10:06am #

    God is not our order taker.

  10. Roberto said on June 20th, 2008 at 3:21pm #

    For those of you who think that taking your chances with modern medicine is as bad or risky as taking your chances with “The Lord,” I’ll just wager that you’ll go to church or simply “pray” instead of seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital when you get cancer or have a heart attack! But, somehow, its acceptable for a nut-job parent to leave his child to die? On Animal Planet’s “Animal Cops” program we witness people being prosecuted all the time for neglecting their cats, dogs, and horses and not getting them proper vet care. Yet, somehow, its all-right to do the same to your child. These people are mentally ill and should be in institutions or prison!

  11. paris chanelle george said on October 5th, 2008 at 2:16am #

    well i dont know what to say i fell sorry for that child Bad parants

  12. Nancy Hudson said on May 17th, 2009 at 9:48am #

    There is no way you can compare neglect based on religious zealotry to the morbidity/mortality that occurs when you seek and obtain medical treatment. Yes, medical error does occur because doctors are, after all, only human and make mistakes. Some make more than others and usually they are weeded out of the system. The majority of the time medical treatment does what it is supposed to do. People who die despite treatment would have died without it anyway..usually the diagnosis is late in those cases. Of course, the numbers will be skewed as most people seek treatment and eventually many succumb to their illness. What is at the heart of this issue is the idea of allowing parents to keep their children from getting treatment for diseases that frequently will be successfully treated, such as diabetes, Hodgkins lymphoma, etc. The arguments above don’t change the fact that this is abuse and neglect, plain and simple. No, we don’t have the answer to death yet, folks. No one should be sanctioned to hasten it along unless the patient is legally capable of asking for termination of his/her life in cases of terminal illness.