Friday, July 31, 2009

Child's health trumps religious beliefs

A young girl lies motionless as members of her father’s Bible study group surround her. She’s unable to speak, to drink fluids, to eat, to even sit up. Prayers from these people surround her, but it’s too late. Hours later, she dies.

This gruesome scene would make sense if it happened in a hospital; if a young girl were dying, we could understand why her loved ones would surround her there with prayers and last minute tidings of hope.

Instead, this scene took place at her parents’ home, and took several days to develop. Madeline Neumann was 11 years old when she died of complications from untreated diabetes. According to her mother, she exhibited symptoms as early as two weeks before her death.

Rather than take their daughter to the doctor, Dale and Leilani Neumann enlisted the help of their Bible study group to pray her ailments away. In his sworn testimony earlier this week, Dale stated that, “If I [went] to the doctor, I am putting him before God.” This from a man who had once burned books in his library because the Holy Spirit told him to do so.

Dale is currently charged with second-degree reckless homicide. His wife received a guilty verdict earlier this year for the same incident.

This case brings forth an important question: is religious belief absolutely untouchable? That is, does the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment protect parents who cause harm to their children due to their religious beliefs?

Everyone’s religion must be respected. From Christian to Hindu, Buddhist to Scientologist, everyone has a right to practice their religion as they see fit (this includes those who lack religious beliefs – they, too, can freely believe in no god or gods). This, however, comes with a caveat: people are not allowed to practice their faith if it is inherently trampling upon the rights of others. I can’t, for example, perform a human sacrifice if the subject is an unwilling participant.

Thus, not all religious beliefs are respected. Like all rights, they end when you begin to harm or burden others.

A religious belief does not allow you to ignore your responsibilities either. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s well-being. Prayer is good, but if serious action is needed – say, a visit to the hospital when your son jumps off the roof of the house – then you have a duty to seek the proper medical attention as needed.

Madeline Neumann fits that example. For two weeks, she exhibited symptoms of a child who had an illness. In her final hours, she couldn’t even move, couldn’t even tell her parents that she loved them despite their actions having been responsible for her condition. And for what? So that her parents could show their devotion to God? Or so that they could prove to skeptics His power? The Bible itself tells us not to tempt God’s power (Deuteronomy 6:16 and Luke 4:12). So who are the Neumann’s to do so?

Leilani Neumann got the proper conviction when she was found guilty of reckless homicide; her husband Dale deserves the same conviction. They deserve to be punished for what they put their daughter through.

1 comment:

  1. Another similar story just ended in Oregon. The parents got off too light, if you ask me.