I understand the hesitation Idaho lawmakers have as they tiptoe around issues they fear could compromise religious freedom.
But kids are needlessly dying and action by the Idaho Legislature to repeal or alter faith healing exemptions might change that. Idaho must act.
When a religion exists outside the tenet of live-and-let-live, that makes me wonder about its legitimacy. When a religion practices live-and-let-die with regard to children who can’t speak for themselves and who are not allowed to receive potentially life-saving medical attention, I wonder about the legitimacy of the legislative body that protects that practice.
In order for Idaho to remove itself as a permissive party, it must remove religious exemptions of criminal injury from any group that refuses appropriate medical care that could (or does) result in imminent danger or the death of infants, toddlers and older children who can’t understand the decisions being made for them.
A Child Fatality Review Team has determined that “10 children died in the past three years in circumstances where upon review of medical records, proper medical care would have saved them.”
“The medical care was lacking because of religious beliefs,” according to a letter the Faith Healing Work Group submitted last week to Idaho Senate Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.
I have no answer for people who have arrived at a place where they believe that “the Bible prohibits the use of medicine,” as one member of an Idaho congregation testified to the committee last year. When people navigate this world and hold such sincerely held beliefs I don’t pretend to know how to undo that.
All I know is that one of the authors of the Gospels, Luke, was a physician. And though I don’t know how he went about treating people, I doubt it was an accident he was recruited by Jesus. The Apostle Paul referred to Luke as “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. I know Jesus performed countless miracles that made sick people well — a state of health that apparently pleased him. I know Jesus said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me. . .” He did not say “let the children suffer.”
Christians are commanded to pray in every circumstance — but why must that exclude praying for the wisdom of a physician or the effectiveness of a prescribed medication?
Last summer the Statesman’s Bill Dentzer wrote about the intersection where religious freedom and medical neglect collide. The religious exemption law dates to 1970s federal legal language that was relaxed in 1983 but still in force in six states that created shield laws — including Idaho. Oregon repealed its in 2011. But our state remains a sanctuary for, as Dentzer wrote, “what amounts to religious defense for child manslaughter, even capital murder, in its code.”
Some of the Idaho senators who have studied the faith healing issue have shared five courses of action: 1) Leave exemption in place; 2) expand the exemption to include all religious beliefs and practices; 3) modify exemptions in cases when risk of child’s death or permanent disability; 4) remove exemptions and defer to Idaho’s Free Exercise of Religion Act; 5) modify exemptions and adopt the requirements for parents to report.
Legislative bodies can debate policy and remedies forever. I understand the goal is not to punish the parents but to protect the children.
Perhaps they have that backward. When a child is unable to protect himself or herself from a religious practice that could prove fatal, the people have a duty to intervene.