News: Faith Healing vs. Medicine in Recent Child Death Cases

470px-DUJARDIN_Karel_St_Paul_Healing_the_Cripple_at_LystraAs a judge and lawyers in Weston, Wisconsin, decide on jury members to try the case of Dale Neumann, who, with his wife Leilani, chose to pray for his daughter’s recovery from a diabetes-related illness rather than seek medical help, leading to her death  in March 2008, Raylene Worthington is acquitted of similar charges in Oregon City, Oregon, while her husband Carl is charged with criminal mistreatment of their 15-month-old daughter Ava, who also died in March 2008, from pneumonia and blood infection. Both deaths, the courts allege, probably could have been avoided with medical treatment.

Both the Neumanns and the Worthingtons belong to religious movements with Pentecostal roots. The Neumann’s are reportedly “Full-Gospel Christians.” Dale Neumann viewed his daughter’s illness as a “test of faith” and solicited prayers from numerous people, believing they would save his daughter. The Worthingtons belong to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon-based sect with a little over a thousand followers that has aroused controversy for their practice of “shunning” members who seek medical care rather than rely solely on faith healing. See stories here and here.

Such cases involve a clash between certain religious worldviews and a faith in Western medical practice. When the case involves children and parental responsibility, it often becomes a legal issue. Other religiously motivated alternative forms of healing also have been subjected to court intervention, such as the recent case of Colleen Hauser and her 13-year-old son Daniel, adherents of the natural healing philosophy of the Nemenhah Band, who resisted chemo-therapy until court orders compelled them. As Brandeis professor Wendy Cadge points out, such cases raise complex ethical questions: “How much latitude should parents have in caring for their ill children? When should physicians and courts intervene? How much power should they have? …What role should traditional or alternative forms of health care play when children are afflicted with life-threatening diseases?” See her article here.

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