Telling constituents it’s acceptable to deny children needed medical care doesn’t seem like something that would get a politician re-elected. But that’s what’s happening in Idaho.

Child advocates have been imploring lawmakers there to change laws that prevent adults who deny children needed medical care from being prosecuted. The laws apply to people who claim to have only prayed over a sick child rather than take him or her to a doctor or hospital. As a result, there is an unusually high child death rate in one extremist group, the Followers of Christ.

Tragically, legislators refuse to change the laws. They say to do so would be to deny those adults their religious freedoms. More than one Idaho news site has published an op-ed written by Bruce Wingate, Executive Director of Protect Idaho Kids, and Janet Heimlich, founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

The article talks about a teenager named Pamela Jade Eells who died of pneumonia in 2011. Because she was denied medical care, her lungs filled with fluid, a condition that could have been treated with antibiotics. One physician likened Pamela’s dying to “being waterboarded four or five times a day.”

As shocking as this sounds, lawmakers seemed unmoved by cases like Pamela’s in which children suffered and died from treatable illnesses. Here’s an excerpt:

In March of this year, senators serving on a task force to study the issue strictly limited public comment and provided no recommendations. At one meeting, despite the unusually high number of child deaths among the Followers of Christ group, legislators made little mention of the need to protect children’s health and instead pontificated about their own beliefs about “faith healing.”

Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway tried to persuade attendees that, in cases in which children had died, more child protections still were not needed. His reasoning was based on his belief that lawmakers were essentially doing the dead children a favor by preventing them from receiving necessary medical care. “Those children that have gone on, they’re probably where we’re all trying to get,” said Siddoway.

Protect Idaho Kids and the Child-Friendly Faith Project will continue to raise awareness of these dangerous laws. We hope that the people of Idaho will let their legislators know that they want all children to be protected from medical neglect, including those raised in extremist groups.

To view the article as a pdf, please go here. To see an online version, please go here.


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Janet Heimlich is an award-winning journalist and the author of "Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment," the first book to fully examine the issue of child abuse and neglect enabled by religious belief. In 2012, Janet founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project whose mission is to share knowledge and build community around the issue of religious child maltreatment (RCM) and advocate for and empower those whose lives are impacted by RCM. She also sits on the board of directors of Foundation Beyond Belief and co-hosts the podcast, "Parenting Beyond Belief." Prior to becoming a child advocate, Janet was a freelance reporter for National Public Radio, work for which she won numerous journalism awards; she has also written nonfiction articles for such publications as Texas Monthly and the Texas Observer.

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