When Faith Kills Children

OREGON CITY, Ore. – A judge sentenced Jeffrey and Marci Beagley each should serve 16 months in prison. They were convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the 2008 death of their 16-year-old son Niel.  He died of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage, a condition that is normally treated very easily.  He died because his parents relied on faith healing, even though Neil’s life was at stake.

Oregon, fortunately, had passed a law over ten years ago that stipulates the freedom of religious practice is not an excuse to shun medical treatment for a dangerously ill child.  The state legislature did so in response to the deaths of children in the same fellowship, the Followers of Christ Church.  The church cemetery includes many rows of child graves.

An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children who died under the care of faith healers would most likely have survived if they had received medical care. Eighty-one percent of the deaths were caused by conditions that had a medical survival rate of 90%. Many die from the promotion of health by faith. Judge Steven Maurer stated, “The fact is, too many children have died unnecessarily – a graveyard full. This has to stop.”

This has to stop.  No truer words have been spoken

The frauds known as faith healers do accomplish something though. They make a lot of money.  Some of these charlatans arrive in private jets and are whisked away to the tent or their hotel in stretch limousines.  Their defense for withholding much needed medical treatment is their interpretation of the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.  But the right of religious freedom is not absolute and there comes a time when the state must step into the church’s domain.  The job of the government is to protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and these purveyors of false hope are domestic enemies, as they are detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare.  The fact is, according to the 1944 case of Prince v. Massachusetts: “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”  The First Amendment does not give parents the right to use religion to endanger their children’s health.

Faith healing does not work.  It kills children.  Innocent lives are being lost due to mentally ill parents who are being duped by these ministers of malevolence all because they have been convinced that seemingly miraculous cures occur. Natural healing processes are being lauded as miraculous cures, while a simple change in emotional state can be responsible.  Divine intervention, even through a faith healer, is not the cause of spontaneous recoveries, which are known to happen to all people, even atheists.  Although science does not completely understand all of these occurrences, they are decreasing and being better understood as time marches on. Only religion could sway the gullible minds of humans into believing that “God will heal you”.

The fact that many people believe these charlatans are divine agents speaks volumes about the level of ignorance, both blind and willful, that still pervades one of the most advanced nations on the planet. In spite of all the advances we have made in the field of medical science in the last century, those who go to faith healers still cling to Loyola’s statement of faith: For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who disbelieve, no amount of proof is sufficient.

If someone you know is considering taking their children to one of these con artists, they should be reminded about:

  • Ian Lundman, age 11, died of diabetes in 1989 in suburban Minneapolis. His father had left their church, but did not have custody. The boy lost weight and became lethargic. A school official noticed a fruity odor on Ian’s breath, a classic diabetes symptom, but did not recognize it as such nor did she know his mother and stepfather had religious beliefs against medical care. Their faith healer, by the way, billed them $446 for his prayers.
  • Matthew Swan, age 16 months, died of spinal meningitis in 1977 in Detroit, Michigan. The faith healers repeatedly said they were healing Matthew. Symptoms were reinterpreted as evidence of healing and when the child died, they blamed the parent’s sins.
  • Amy Hermanson, 7, died in 1986 in Sarasota, Florida. A talented little girl, she took piano, violin, harp, and art lessons, and excelled in academic subjects also. Many teachers and employees at her mother’s business observed Amy’s weight loss and lethargy over a four-week period, but did not report it to Child Protection Services (CPS). They did not know she had diabetes.
  • In 1986, Robyn Twitchell, age 2, who lived near Boston, died of peritonitis and a twisted bowel after a five-day illness. On the fourth day, a church nurse recorded: “Child listless at times, rejecting all food, moaning in pain, three wounds on thigh.” The nurse force-fed him and directed his mother to feed him every half hour. On the fifth day, he was vomiting “a brown, foul-smelling substance.” Autopsy photos showed bright red lips and chin, probably because the acid in the vomit had eaten the skin off. His scrotum and about 15 inches of his ruptured intestine were jet black because their blood supply had been cut off.
  • Andrew Wantland, age 12, died of untreated diabetes in LaHabra, California, in 1992. A faith healer attempted to heal him with prayer for four days. He lost thirty pounds. On the last day of his life, he was emaciated, vomiting, and urinating frequently. Later in the day he was unable to eat, drink, make eye contact, speak, or move around. His mother was not a member of the church, and made it clear that she wanted medical care provided for her children. Nevertheless, neither Andrew’s father nor other church officials informed Mrs. Quigley that her son was ill.
  • In 1998 two-year-old Harrison Johnson, shown here with his friend Megan, was stung 432 times by wasps while the family was visiting church friends in Tampa, Florida. His parents asked neighborhood children and fellow church members to pray for him, but did not call for medical help until more than 7 hours after the attack. The EMT’s arrived to find the toddler without a pulse and not breathing. His pupils were fixed and dilated. His parents admitted the boy had been unresponsive for 30 to 45 minutes.
  • At the age of five, Nancy Brewster of El Paso, Texas, developed lumps on her neck and threw up repeatedly. She was too sick to go to school after first grade. The faith healer prayed for Nancy. She urged the girl and her mother to deny the symptoms of the illness as an illusion. Nancy was constantly told that she was God’s perfect child and nothing could be wrong with her. Nancy was made to exercise in 100 degree–plus heat and forced to eat even though she was vomiting. Both her mother and the practitioner believed that Nancy was just being stubborn. Her mother sometimes even beat Nancy and blamed her for not getting healed. Nancy got no pain relief, even an aspirin. She was not held or comforted because that would be giving reality to the disease.Nancy died September 29, 1963, at age 7. Her death certificate lists “probable malignant lymphoma” as the cause.

The rise in preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering as the result of faith healing warrant public concern. The problem is that believers don’t see it as a problem and the rest of us don’t see it as a priority issue, even in light of the loss of life amongst our children.  More states need to enact laws to protect children from medical neglect in the name of healing.  The states that already have these laws on the books need to enforce them, and if it means sending government inspectors into our churches and social workers following up on these cases, then so be it.  How would this be paid for, you ask?  How about we remove the tax exempt status for churches?  There’d be plenty of money. As well, states that allow religious exemptions from medical neglect should have those exemptions revoked and the practice of faith healing on minors should be made illegal.

Churches that practice this sort of child abuse should be shuttered and the so-called “faith healers”, who are using nothing but trickery to raise large sums of money or gain notoriety to feed their bloated egos, should be prosecuted for grand larceny, or worse. Parents who allowing their child to die a slow, painful death are guilty of child abuse at best, although probably murder is a better definition.  Parents who believe in faith healing as a cure for their children are suffering from severe mental illness and are unfit parents. They should have their children taken away from them.  They do not deserve the privilege of being parents and should not be allowed anywhere near children.

Judge Steven Maurer, indeed, said a mouthful when he stated, “This has got to stop”

  2 comments for “When Faith Kills Children

  1. March 10, 2010 at 8:25 am

    You’re right, this has got to stop.

    It’s one thing to pray, use crystals,etc…but FIRST take the child to the doctors. Not to say all doctors know best. Holistic treatments can work for some things. But my aunt died of easily curable breast cancer because she was a practicing Christian Scientist. She, at least, was not just an adult, but an elderly adult. But if she had gone to treatment earlier, she might have been saved.

    JWs who refuse blood for themselves as adults, risk their lives. But when they refuse blood for minors, that should be criminal negligence.

    Some people–a great many people–should not be parents.


  2. March 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    My apologies for the previous title for today’s entry “When a Child is Murdered by God”… It was my working title and not the one I had intended.

    The old title suggests that I have a belief in god and that he kills children, which, of course, there is biblical evidence for, if you believe in that sort of book.

    Anyhow, the new title “When Faith Kills Children” is the one that I had originally intended.

Leave a Reply