What’s God Got To Do With It?


Anyone else out there a little upset to hear the verdict that just came down for Dale and Leilani Neumann, the Wisconsin couple whose 11-year-old daughter died before their eyes from untreated Type 1 diabetes because they refused to take her to the doctor? I remember hearing about this case a while back and being horrified — instead of seeking medical treatment for their daughter Madeline, who was presenting with classic symptoms of Type 1, they tried to cure her through prayer. It was a nice gesture, but unfortunately, Jesus and the Islets of Langerhans aren’t particularly close, and so the girl continued to waste away before their eyes. Eventually she died on her family’s kitchen floor, surrounded by people praying. It was only after she stopped breathing that someone decided to call 911.

You can read more details in this piece from the AP — but the basic gist is that the parents were convicted of second-degree reckless homicide earlier this year, and could have received 25 years in jail. Instead they got 6 months in jail and 10 years probation.

I suppose it might be pointless to spend tax dollars on incarcerating people who, in all likelihood, are probably not going to end up with another child with a chronic disease that they allow to die. (Thankfully, the terms of the probation also require them to allow a public health nurse to examine their other children at least once every three months.) But I’m still disturbed by the judge’s slap-on-the-wrist approach — not to mention the fact that in America, in 2009, there are still a considerable number of people out there who sympathize with the parents. As an agnostic, I try to stay neutral about other people’s religious beliefs. But I think it’s very scary to suggest that people’s right to prayer is anywhere near close to their daughter’s right to see a doctor. And it’s also very disturbing, as the Assistant District Attorney pointed out, that the parents never said they were sorry for what happened. “They allowed Kara [the girl’s nickname] to die because they got themselves too caught up in the misguided belief that they were being tested by God,” he told the AP.

That certainly seems true, given this statement from Madeline’s mother:

“‘I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health,’ she said. ‘Did we know she had a fatal illness? No. Did we act to the best of our knowledge? Yes.'”

See, but that’s the reason most people choose to see a doctor for their sick children: because there are times where the “best of your knowledge” just isn’t enough.

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10 years ago

I consider this judge to be an accomplice to the Neumanns’ crimes, by giving them such a ludicrously lenient sentence. They absolutely should have gotten the maximum of 25 years. In fact, even that would have been too little.


[…] When I first read about the case, I thought there must have been some misunderstanding. Maybe her parents didn’t know that she had Type 1 diabetes — which doesn’t excuse them for not seeking medical help until their daughter stopped breathing, but might at least explain their claim that they thought she had the flu. Maybe they recognized she was dying but were extremely religious, and were trying to heal her through prayer — again, unacceptable, but it’s happened before. […]

Robert Scheinman
13 years ago

In Boulder CO there lives a community of folks who do not believe in vaccines. Their children are doing a very good job of passing viruses throughout the community and vastly adding to the health care problem.

Scott Richard
13 years ago

I have always felt my entire life that I had more in common with Job then any other person, specifically because G-d decided to test me by giving me Diabetes.  As a believer I took it as a challenge and passed G-d’s test as I control my Diabetes…

13 years ago

Faith and science are not mutually exclusive.  They could have prayed for her AND taken her to the doctor.  This is so sad.


[…] entire story disturbs me so deeply I find it difficult to write about, but Catherine Price wrote a piece that says the same thing I […]

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