Baby’s Death Sparks Debate on Prayer Vs. Medical Care

The death of Johnson County baby who received no medical care is stirring debate on a couple of fronts.

There is no word yet on whether the parents of the baby will be charged. An investigator from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department met with prosecutors about the matter Tuesday afternoon. The case raises a couple of chief issues: one of them religious, and the other, legal.

The people who run the General Assembly and the Church of the Firstborn in Morgantown believe their members should rely on prayer alone and not medicine.

That’s just what a couple who live in Johnson County did two Sundays ago when their newborn daughter developed an infection. She died. The sheriff’s department says the cause was a staph infection.

“How do you know that she had an infection? You know what man has said, but man’s been wrong lots of times. I’m not concerned that that baby, unless you’ve seen the autopsy, I’m not convinced that that baby died with an infection,” said Tom Nation, a church elder.

The church bases its opposition to doctors on biblical passages like this one from the Book of James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Professor Marti Steussy at the Christian Theological Seminary has studied biblical passages like this one. “They don’t actually say a lot about doctors. They say that God will help heal us. And the question is, how do you think God works?”

Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings unsuccessfully prosecuted the parents of an Indiana boy who died after they delayed medical care for religious reasons. To him, religious beliefs are no defense for allowing a child to die. “I think maybe some of us have a responsibility to protect children from those kinds of decisions by their parents,” he said.

Pediatrician Eric Yancy, a deacon in his church, believes the Bible and medicine go hand in hand. “I certainly believe that he guides treatment plans and guides thoughts and guides discoveries, and things like that and when it’s appropriate for those things to occur, then we discover them,” said Yancy.

Part of the Indiana child neglect law allows parents to provide prayer instead of medicine if it’s part of their religious practice. But Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, says other parts of Indiana law would allow prosecutors to charge parents who refuse medical treatment for a child if that child dies.

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Aug. 26, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday August 28, 2003.
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