MADISON, Wis. — A mother and father who prayed instead of seeking medical help as their daughter died were properly convicted of homicide, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a decision that dramatically limits legal immunity for parents who turn to God rather than science to heal their children.
The decision marks the first time a Wisconsin court has addressed criminal culpability in a prayer treatment case in which a child died. The court ruled, 6 to 1, that the state’s immunity provisions for parents using prayer treatment protect them from child abuse charges but nothing else.
Most states, including Wisconsin, created exemptions from child abuse charges for prayer-healing parents in the 1970s to meet federal requirements. Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and North Carolina have taken their exemptions off the books.
The Wisconsin case revolves around an 11-year-old girl named Madeline Kara Neumann, who died of undiagnosed diabetes in 2008.
Kara, who had been growing weak for several weeks leading up to her death, eventually became too sick to speak, eat, drink, or walk. Her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, identify themselves as Pentecostal Christians and believe visiting a doctor is akin to worshipping an idol, the Supreme Court opinion said.