Monday, March 31, 2008

Murder vs. faith-healing (or doing nothing)

The FFRF has a new press release with their perspective of the death of Madeline Kara Neumann from diabetic ketoacidosis while her parents did nothing while praying for her. I fully agree with their strongly-worded press release, and the authors seem to be putting up with the same sort of fractal wrongness that I talked about last week. These parents, their supporters, and frankly the Wisconsin Legislature, are wrong at such a fundamental level that they can't even understand why brights are so saddened and enraged by this.

What's even more appalling is the ambivalent reaction: "Ethicists say case unclear," reports the Wausau Daily Herald. The Herald quoted bioethicist Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin Medical school warning that it's important not to be moralistic or pass judgment on parents who think they can heal a child through prayer: "They believe they're helping their child; they love their child, and they believe prayer has an effect."

However deluded the parents may be, the rest of us need not countenance or indulge that dangerous delusion.

Dean Zuleger, the administrator of the Village of Weston, was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying, "There is a general sense of grief and sadness. Because I know the family a bit, there is a great deal of concern for their well-being." The parents' well-being?

"Death draws out difficult issues" read a headline in the Journal Sentinel. While Madeline's drawn-out death, involving nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, weight loss and weakness, is very difficult to read about, there is nothing difficult at all about deciding where the blame lies. "The prayer of faith will heal the sick," according to James 5:15. The fault lies in society's laudatory attitude toward a "holy book" which teaches superstition and faith-healing, whose passages are latched onto by bible literalists, and whose obedience to such injunctions has been given a pass in the criminal statutes of many states.

Hattip to Friendly Atheist for the update


  1. I've written pretty extensively on the legal and ethical issues raised by these kinds of cases, including in a book recently published by Oxford University Press. And, since I'm based at UW-Madison, I've commented on the Neumann case specifically in a number of different forums (including CNN).

    I won't drone on here, but if you're interested in learning more about the Neumann case (or the analogous Worthington case in Oregon), you might check out my "Religious Convictions" blog at:

  2. Thanks for the comment and link. I read your article posted at the Wasau Daily Herald ( and frankly, it seemed rather ambiguous. My perspective on this issue is clear: provide clear, compelling, unambiguous proof that a supernatural being wants you to exclusively pray for healing, or face the legal consequences. Negligence at a minimum, but I believe it's murder.


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