A legislative committee in Idaho is about to consider a bill that would endanger the lives of countless children in that state. Senate Bill 1182, filed by Sen. Dan Johnson, aims to change the laws that provide religious exemptions to parents who deny their children needed medical care.
Already, more children die of “faith healing” medical neglect in Idaho than in any other state, largely due to the existence of the Followers of Christ church whose members insist that going to a doctor or hospital is the work of the devil. But another culprit is the Idaho legislature which has repeatedly refused to repeal the exemptions.
On Monday, for the first time, a committee will hold hearings on a bill that addresses this issue. But with the introduction of SB1182, Idaho lawmakers seem determined to only increase the number of children who, through religious medical neglect, will suffer pain, severe illness, permanent disability, and death.
One of the biggest problems is that SB1182 only addresses religious exemptions in the civil code. It does nothing to allow prosecutors to file charges against medically neglectful parents who “treat” their children only with prayer. And SB1182 contains loopholes that could greatly increase the number of parents who neglect their children without penalty. For example, the bill exempts parents if the children themselves choose not to receive medical care.
How easy would it be for a parent who refuses a child insulin for diabetes, and then, after the child goes into a diabetic coma and dies, to claim that the child refused the insulin? Besides, making children responsible for deciding their own medical treatments in pro-faith healing communities and households is nothing less than abusive. In these extreme groups, children are raised since birth to believe that prayer is the only sure way to find healing, while receiving an aspirin will send you on a fast track to hell. Offering a child who’s been indoctrinated with these beliefs and practices the choice of whether to be taken to a strange hospital or stick with prayer is exploitive and self-serving since the adults know the child will choose in their favor.
The other dangerous loophole provides a parent the ability to say he or she had no idea that a child was in distress. The bill narrowly defines medical neglect in instances when a parent is “treating” a child with prayer and “failure to receive medical treatment is likely to result in serious permanent injury or death.” (I suppose for Idaho lawmakers, “injury” or even “permanent injury” isn’t enough to warrant Child Protective Services to be called.)
And so parents, particularly those who live in insulated, extremist groups, could claim that they had no idea a child was at risk for “serious permanent injury” or death, just as parents in other states have claimed at trial. (The bill would be significantly improved if it stated that such a condition would have to meet a standard of reasonableness. So, for example, it could state that a child would be considered neglected “if a reasonable person would determine that the failure to receive medical treatment is likely to result in serious permanent injury or death.”)
A particularly terrifying change in the law consists of two words: in part. Currently, only parents who rely on faith healing as the only means of “treatment” are immune from, say, being investigated by CPS. But SB1182 expands this to also include parents who rely on prayer only “in part.” With these two words, the bill aims to allow potentially thousands of parents off the hook for harming their children. In essence, parents who at any time while their child is battling an illness say a quick prayer would not be held accountable if they denied that child medical care, even if the child died as a result.
Idaho, why make an already deadly situation worse?
To write to Idaho legislators and tell them what you think of SB1182, please visit Protect Idaho Kids.