There is nothing more tragic than the death of a child. There is nothing I can say to “explain away” or, somehow, excuse death. I’ve been a Christian Science practitioner for a long time now, and I’ve never seen death as anything ordained by God.I can’t speak for all the different faith traditions out there, but I can tell you that in Christian Science, death is never, ever “God’s will.”
I should also tell you that I’ve been working with legislators around the country for over a decade to help ensure that conscientious, caring parents are able to care for their children in the manner they have found to be most effective. You may want to read that sentence again, as it was constructed with care. When I use words like “conscientious” and phrases like “found to be most effective,” I’m not spouting rhetoric. I’m speaking to the spirit in which these laws were adopted — to support responsibility, not neglect, results and not superstitions.
Let there be no mistake about the prime assumption behind these laws — that parents should not be judged by how, but by how well they guard their children’s well-being. In other words, results matter. Under the law, all parents, regardless of race, creed, or national origin, are expected to care for their children in such a way that the results meet the standards of contemporary society.
I know a lot of people say that money buys access to lawmakers, and that this is how laws get passed and things get done. But in all these years representing my church, I’ve never had a dime to spend on a Political Action Committee. I’ve never had “clout” or special “access.” And despite this, legislators around the country have supported laws that ensure no-one of any age will be denied the opportunity to avail themselves of effective, prayer-based care. Why? Perhaps because this is America. In America, we have come to respect, even cherish, a diversity of means and methods, so long as they promote good without causing harm. The greatness of this nation, of this society, lies in a deep-rooted, often-unacknowledged humility — an understanding that even when the great majority insists that there’s only one way to do something, there may, in fact, be another way. And that it may even turn out to be a better way.
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Prayer, a Dead Child and the Law
By Claire Hoffman | June 11, 2008; 7:50 AM ET
There’s been a case brewing in rural Wisconsin that may bring up age-old questions of the line between a family’s right to believe and practice the power of prayer and their obligation to the state to seek treatment for their dying child. The case in Wausau accuses parents Dale and Leilani Neumann of committing second-degree reckless homicide when they continued to pray for their increasingly ill 11-year old daughter’s recovery instead of taking her to a hospital. Madeline Kara Neumann died March 23 from complications of untreated diabetes, and while the medical examiner said she had likely shown signs of illness for weeks or even months her parents told investigators they did not know she had diabetes.
The judge in the case has said it could likely make it to the state Supreme Court before trial because of the religious issues involved. At the heart of the case is a Wisconsin law that says a parent cannot be accused of abuse or neglect of a child if they in good faith chose prayer as treatment for illness. But District Attorney Jill Falstad has said her reading of the law is that it does not apply to homicide cases.
If this case sounds familiar to you, it is. Check out this story by Linda Greenhouse in the NY Times a dozen years ago, about the Christian Science practicing mother of an 11-year-old Wisconsin boy who died from untreated diabetes, after falling into a coma. She was the target of an unsuccessful state prosecution and a successful civil case. The mother and her Church prayed for the boy in lieu of seeking medical treatment. They failed to persuade the Supreme Court to hear their appeal of a $1.5 million damage judgment, which was won in a civil lawsuit by the boy’s father.
Both these cases have all the elements of a good first amendment case to me because they offer up the classic American tensions of faith, freedom and privacy and pit them against the safety and well-being of innocent individuals. Keep your eyes on Wisconsin.