The parents charged with reckless homicide for praying while their 11-year-old daughter died of diabetes are the first people in Wisconsin accused of such a crime, according to a national group that monitors faith-based abuse and neglect of children.
At least 309 children have died in the United States in the past 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, said Rita Swan, executive director of CHILD Inc.
The deaths include Madeline Kara Neumann of Weston, a straight-A student who weighed only 65 pounds when she died from undiagnosed diabetes. Her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, told investigators she had not been to a doctor since she was 3.
The Neumanns are charged with second-degree reckless homicide in their daughter’s Easter Sunday death at the family’s rural home.
Prosecutors say the Neumanns were criminally reckless when they prayed instead of taking their daughter to a doctor when she became progressively ill from undiagnosed diabetes.
Leilani Neumann has said the family believes in the Bible, which says healing comes from God, and she never expected her daughter to die.
The parents’ attorneys have asked for the charges to be dismissed, saying the criminal complaint doesn’t spell out how the parents’ actions caused the girl to die.
They prayed, gave their daughter food, tried to give her fluids and provided CPR, none of which would have killed the child, according to the motion to dismiss.
A hearing has been set for June 10 on the issue.
It’s rare for parents to be prosecuted for children’s deaths because medical care was withheld on religious grounds, Swan said.
Her group — called Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty and based in Sioux City, Iowa — has documented 65 cases in 20 states in which criminal charges were filed.
Of those, 49 cases have resulted in convictions, and four are pending, Swan said.
But, it’s hard to prosecute people who withhold medical care on religious grounds, Swan said. “Most of these parents are good upstanding citizens. They have never been charged with crimes before. They are heartbroken.”
She believes prosecutors have a good case in Kara Neumann’s death, given there is evidence the girl deteriorated to the point she couldn’t walk or talk and her grandmother called her parents from California and told them to get medical care.
“The parents have a high degree of awareness of the seriousness of the illness,” Swan said. “The state has an interest in protecting the life of a child until she is 18.
Then, she can make her own decision on what religion she wants to follow.”
Swan’s group helped sponsor a 1995 study that determined that 90 percent of the children who died in 172 cases of faith-based healing would have lived with some timely medical care, she said.
Swan is a former Christian Scientist whose son died of meningitis in Michigan in 1977 as he was getting spiritual treatments instead of medical care.
“Christian Scientists have no track record to show that they can heal a child with bacterial meningitis,” Swan said. “Antibiotics heal meningitis.”
Swan and her husband were not prosecuted. They co-founded CHILD Inc. in 1983, she said.
She has since left the Christian Science Church but remembers the allures of faith healing.
“My parents had raised six children without a drop of medical care, and I grew up with the notion it was a perfectly safe way to live,” she said. “We felt superior to people who went to doctors and were scared of hundreds of diseases that we had never heard about.”