Supreme Court won’t hear fatal faith healing case

The U.S. Surpreme Court has refused to hear the appeal of a Wisconsin couple convicted in separate trials in 2009 in the faith healing death of their 11-year-old daughter.

While they faced 25 years in prison, Dale and Leilani Neumann were each sentenced to 10 years of probation.

Each parent would also have to spend 30 days in jail for six years. To enable the couple to take care of their remaining children, one parent would have to serve the sentence in March; the other in October. But to date neither parent has spent any time in jail, while their lawyers guided them through a series of appeals.

More than a dozen U.S. states have some form of legal protection for parents who choose to try and heal their children through prayer rather than seek conventional medical help.

Reporting on the Neumann case in January 2009, the New York Times said bout 300 children have died in the United States during the previous 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.

Having exhausted their appeals, the Neumanns are now scheduled to appear in court on January 30 to find out if they will have to start serving their jail sentences, and if so, when.

October 6, 2009 Associated Press report on the sentencing of Leilani and Dale Neumann

Defense attorneys say they couple has been through enough and will argue for no jail time. They point out that the couple’s other children are now adults, out of harm’s way for a repeat incident.

Prosecutors insist the couple should at least serve the unusual sentence they were handed by the now retired judge Vincent Howard.

The Neumann’s daughter, Madeline Kara, died in March 2008 from undiagnosed diabetes after her parents opted to treat her by praying instead of seeking medical care. At their sentencing hearing both parents, who are not members of an official church, told the judge they consider Kara’s death to be an act of God, and maintained the only thing they’re guilty of is following their faith.

At her trial a family friend testified that Leilani thought sickness was caused by sin.

Information and research resources on faith healing
When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law (Amazon.com), by Shawn Francis Peters. Oxford University Press, USA, 2007.

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