American law, in some places, works in mysterious ways – as when it allows parents who staunchly believe in ‘faith healing’ to deny medical care to their children, sometimes causing their deaths, or permanent disability.
In yet another example of how the U.K.-based The Guardian beats out U.S. media on a U.S.-based story, that British website has reported how legislators in the state of Idaho have repeatedly denied young citizens they represent a pair of basic rights – to ‘life,’ and to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ – expressed so eloquently in the nascent country’s Declaration of Independence.
The issue, in this instance, is the strongly-held (but totally unproved) belief of their parents that faith-healing is a superior approach to ‘treatment’ than is the well-established (and superiorly proven) practice of employing skilled medical professionals in attempts to cure diseases, treat physical ailments and, in the process, possibly even save lives.
The parents, in this situation, are members of a fundamentalist Mormon sect – strict followers of their own version of the rather offbeat beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, often referred to as LDS. Among their beyond-the-ordinary beliefs are that an assortment of substances, including ‘strong drink’ (except home-made wine), tobacco, and ‘hot drinks’ – including coffee and tea, are not to be consumed, for reasons that shall, no doubt, forever remain a mystery.
And somewhere deep in their portfolio of odd expectations is the concept that prayer, the laying-on of unlikely ointments and the like can, miraculously, accomplish as much as modern medicine might.
Sadly, that too often proves to not be the case.
In northern Idaho, The Guardian article says, “While Idaho legislators stonewall [pleas to alter the law – discussed below], children in faith-healing communities continue to suffer; According to coroners’ reports, in Canyon County alone just in the past decade at least 10 children in the Followers of Christ church have died. These include 15-year-old Arrian Granden, who died in 2012 after contracting food poisoning. She vomited so much that her esophagus ruptured. Untreated, she bled to death.
“The other deaths are mostly infants who died during at-home births or soon after from treatable complications, simple infections or pneumonia.”
In their way, members of the Followers of Christ sect, are to LDS, as extreme to the extreme as are, say, Lubavitch Hassidics to Judaism – with rules of their own that bare little if any resemblance to the basics of their ‘home’ church. Unlike the extreme Hassidim, though, the likes of the Followers of Christ – and they’re just one of several such extreme sects – look like ‘everybody else’, residing, as they tend to, in areas where there is little racial inter-mixing, scarcely any inter-cultural interaction, very few clearly obvious ‘foreigners’. Hassidim of whatever sect clearly set themselves aside from others through their dress – solid black for men, bearded with, in some sects, long ‘sidelocks’ or sidecurls’ (payot, in Hebrew), and wearing traditional forms of hats, among other distinguishing features.
There was a TV series a few years ago called ‘Big Love’. It centered on a family with one male adult and three females, all living as if they were his legal wives. (They had a massive side-by-side collection of houses, and ‘arrangements’ for sexual liaisons for the man and his assorted mates.)
The concept of ‘legal wives’, plural, is illegal throughout the United States. But one-man-two (or more)-women ‘marriages’ exist, and, for unknown reasons, they are basically ignored by law-enforcement authorities.
The concept of parents being able to deny health care to their children for religious reasons is, however, being challenged. As well it should be.
Take the case of Mariah Walton, who’s now 20, and permanently disabled because her parents refused to let her be treated to close a congenital hole in her heart. That condition could easily have been corrected for a number of years, but now it’s too late; And, rightly so, Mariah is pretty unhappy about that.
“Yes,” she told The Guardian, “I would like to see my parents prosecuted.” Because, she, added, “They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.” Stop other parents from denying their children life- or life-style-saving treatments.
Mariah is frail and permanently disabled as a result of a condition called pulmonary hypertension. When she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. Her life, as you might imagine, leaves much to be desired.
As she grew sicker, in her youth, her parents prayed over her and used ‘alternative medicines’, The Guardian said. The supposedly always-attentive ‘man upstairs’ – if you persist in believing in that myth – obviously was on bathroom breaks during all of their prayer sessions.
Not long ago, Mariah moved out of her parents home. Somehow, she was able to acquire the birth certificate they’d long denied her, and a Social Security number.
She’s probably eligible for, and benefiting from, Medicaid, the government program dedicated to providing (sometimes minimum) health care for seriously ill or disabled individuals with low incomes. The Guardian’s article indicates no income or potential for it for this young lady, whose income would, therefore, fall into the ‘zero to none’ category – making her eligible for both government-paid-for medical help but also for housing and food support.
These are costs that – while I would never deny them to Mariah – are being borne by Americans who pay taxes, who are, in effect, supporting a ‘religious right’ of crazy people. That’s wrong.
The Guardian noted that, “In Canyon County, just west of the capital [of Idaho], the [Followers of Christ] sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a taskforce set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.”
The laws shielding followers of that sect and others from prosecution in Idaho were passed during the Nixon presidency in the 1974, after some high—profile child abuse cases in the 1960’s led Congress to strengthened laws to protect kids. This particular ‘shielding’ section was inserted at the urging of two of Nixon’s key advisors, John Erlichman and J.R. Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists and both key players in the Watergate scandal which revolved around  a theft from the Democratic National Committee of assorted documents,  the attempt to cover up that theft by Nixon ‘operatives’, and  the revelation that the Nixon White House was adorned with microphones and recording systems that tracked virtually everything the president said and did – on his orders. That ‘historic record’ eventually led to the resignation of the president – the first and, so far, only time that’s happened – in August of 1974.
Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explained to The Guardian that, “Because Erlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law.”
It gets more complicated – and more ridiculous, legally – but the bottom line is, Oregon was slow to react and conform to a provision of that law until it because obvious, through news and ancillary reports, that the Followers of Christ were, by neglect, causing the needless, pointless, death of lots of children.
Slowly, very slowly, prosecutors and courts are catching up with these wingnuts, and prosecutions are resulting – up to and including for criminally negligent homicide (Jeffrey and Marci Beagley in 2010) and criminal mistreatment (Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, 2011, whose daughter, Aylana, was ordered to be treated by a condition that was threatening to blinding her), and second degee manslaughter (Dale and Shannon Hickman, after their newborn son died as a result of a simple, easily-curable infection).
I’ve linked to The Guardian article. It goes on and on – ever more horrifically. Read it; you’ll weep.