About a year ago in Wisconsin, an 11-year-old girl named Madeleine Neumann died of diabetic ketoacidosis thanks of the irrational religious beliefs of her parents, who prayed for her but did not take her to a physician even as Madeleine became weaker and more ill, her deterioration leading to a most unpleasant death. Highly unusual in such cases, the DA actually prosecuted the parents for second-degree reckless homicide. Given the unjustifiably privileged position irrational religious justifications for doing horrible things have in our society, I was even more shocked that this case went to trial. Today, I’m even more shocked to learn that the verdict is in and the verdict is guilty as charged:
WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) — A mother accused of praying instead of seeking medical help for her dying 11-year-old daughter was found guilty Friday of second-degree reckless homicide.
A Marathon County jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting Leilani Neumann, 41, of Weston. She faces up to 25 years in prison, but no sentencing date had been set.
She remains free on bond and declined to comment after the verdict was announced.
Neumann’s daughter Madeline died from untreated diabetes on March 23, 2008, surrounded by people praying for her. When she stopped breathing, her parents’ business and Bible study partners finally called 911.
Prosecutors contend a reasonable parent would have known something was gravely wrong with Madeline and that her mother recklessly killed her by ignoring obvious symptoms, such as her inability to walk or talk.
Exactly. This was not rocket science. This was not subtle. Madeleine’s condition deteriorated over several days. Relatives were begging the parents to take her to a doctor, but instead they prayed, likely viewing this as a test of faith:
During closing arguments, Falstad described Neumann as a religious zealot who let her daughter, called Kara by her parents, die as a test of faith.
“Basic medical care would have saved Kara’s life — fluids and insulin,” Falstad said. “There was plenty of time to save Kara’s life.”
Indeed there was. Even very close to the end, there would still have been a good chance that medical intervention involving placing Kara in an ICU, rehydrating her with IV fluids, and giving her insulin and potassium could have saved her life. Doctors never got that chance. Consistent with being religious zealots, the family remain unrepentant and defends their actions:
Linehan said Neumann didn’t realize her daughter was so ill and did all she could do to help, in line with the family’s belief in faith-healing.
He said Neumann was a devout Christian and took good care of her four children.
“The woman did everything she could to help her,” Linehan said. “That is the injustice in this case.”
Neumann’s stepfather, Brian Gordon, said his stepdaughter did nothing wrong in trusting in God to heal her daughter.
“We should have that right in this country,” he said.
No, Madeline/Kara should have had the right to life, which scientific medicine could have given her. She could have lived many more decades if her diabetes had been treated. Her parents denied her that right. Instead, her parents killed her through medical neglect, plain and simple.
One thing I’ve never understood, even before I drifted away from Catholicism: Why do some religions consider it wrong to take advantage of science and medicine to save their own lives or lives of their children? From a religious perspective, didn’t God endow humans with the intellect, curiosity, and ability to pursue science in order to discover the causes of diseases and how to treat them effectively? Why would He do that if He didn’t want his followers to take advantage of them?
There’s a famous old fable that goes something like this. A couple is in their house as flood waters come closer and closer. Police come by and offer to evacuate them because the waters are rising rapidly and their house could soon be under water. The couple decines.
“God will save us,” they say. The police, shaking their heads, leave. There are many other people who need to be evacuated before the floodwaters arrive.
After several hours, the flood waters have risen to the point where the entire first floor of the couple’s house is under water, and the water’s rise shows no signs of slowing down. Officials in a motorboat drive up to the house with a bullhorn and urge the couple, who are now looking out of their second flood bedroom window at the rising water, to get in the boat so that they can be taken to safety. Again, the couple declines.
“God will save us,” they say. The motorboat leaves in order to save other people in the area, who are on their roofs or on the second floor or attics of their houses.
Several hours later, the water has risen so that there is only a small patch at the apex of the roof of the couple’s house that is not under water. A National Guard helicopter flies over the house, a rope ladder hanging down, and a Guardsman urges them through a bullhorn to climb up into the helicopter. For the third time, the couple declines.
“God will save us,” they say. The helicopter pilot reluctantly flies away. There are other people on other roofs, and he can save them.
The water continues rising, and the couple is washed away and drowns. They find themselves in front of God’s throne and ask of Him, “We had faith that you would save us. Why didn’t you save us, O Lord?”
The Lord responds, “What do you mean, foolish ones? I sent police, a boat, and a helicopter to save you. You refused all three.”
Adults may have the right to refuse medical care for themselves for, in essence, almost any reason, be it belief in alternative medicine, a rational belief that the chance of success are too low, or irrational religious beliefs. As in the case of Daniel Hauser, they do not have the right to make their children pay the price for their irrationality. If Daniel Hauser dies, his mother should be prosecuted similarly. After all, her fear of chemotherapy and irrational faith in a bogus religion and bogus “alternative” medicine will in that case have led to the negligent homicide of Daniel, every bit as much as the Neumann’s religious beliefs led to the negligent homicide of Kara.
In the event that Daniel’s Hodgkin’s disease kills him, Colleen Hauser won’t be prosecuted, of course, because cancer takes much longer to kill than untreated diabetic ketoacidosis. This will allow obfuscation and arguments that he would have died anyway or that, another typical argument, that child protective services caused Daniel’s death because they prevented him from getting the “alternative cancer cures” that would have saved his life.
Unfortunately, when the parents hew to irrational beliefs, be they religious in nature or faith in pseudoscience, all too often their children pay the price.