Praying to save a child, instead of seeking hospital treatment, is no defence against criminal culpability, a court has ruled, upholding the convictions of a mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their daughter died.
The American case centres on 11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of undiagnosed diabetes as her parents prayed to God to save her, becoming too ill to walk or speak.
The Neumanns contended that their convictions were unconstitutional because of the state's law that allows residents to pursue "treatment through prayer."
It is the first time a court in the state has considered whether a faith-healing family is culpable when a child dies. Dale Neumann's attorney, Steven Miller, told US media that the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling effectively eliminates legal immunity for prayer treatment.
"If I was advising a parent on faith healing, I'd say there is no privilege. They pretty much gutted it," he said.
Neumann, whose parents are Pentacostal Christians, died at her home in Weston, Wisconsin, in March 2008.
Her parents believe that visiting a doctor is akin to worshipping a false idol, according to a Supreme Court opinion.
"They believe that there are spiritual root causes to sickness and that their prayer and strong religious beliefs will cure any health problems they encounter," the judgment said.
Both parents, who were found guilty separately of second-degree reckless homicide, said they had no idea Kara was on the brink of death.
The day before his daughter died, father Dale Neumann posted a message on a Christian forum with the subject line "Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!"
"We need agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength," he said.
Despite the grandmother's plea to take her to a doctor, and the grandfather's suggestion that the Neumanns give their daughter dehydration treatment, Leilani Neumann said that would take away the glory of God.
After the girl died, her mother told police God would raise Kara from the dead. Both parents serve a month in jail every year for six years, with one parent serving every March and the other every September.
"No one reading the treatment-through-prayer provision should expect protection from criminal liability under any other statute," Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote.
Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Carolina have all already ruled no exemptions exist for faith healing.
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