Paul Hughes

The evolving story of a hopeful skeptic.

November 15, 2012 Health, Law, Religion , , , By Paul Hughes

Neglecting Children The Right Way

When a child is deprived by its parents of the care it requires, the parents are often tried criminally for their neglect. And so they should be! I expect no one who reads this blog would have it any other way (although if you would have it another way, don’t hesitate to express your differing opinion! I should hate to have put false words into your mouth). In cases in which the child dies, often times the neglectful parents are charged with murder; there may be some of you who disagree with that, but I expect we can all agree that the parents should at least be dealt with severely for their recklessness, murder charges or otherwise.

Faith Healing

Image taken from

There are, however, parents who have escaped harsh sentencing, and all of them have one thing in common (other than responsibility for their children’s deaths): they all belong to some type of religion that practices or encourages “faith-healing.” As long as you were depriving your child of medical attention because you were making sure God was attending to him, the judge will likely be quite lenient to you.

Among the types of religions that advocate faith-healing (to the point of refusing medical attention) are Christian Science and Church of Scientology (although they might call it something else), among others. Wait, you say! Come now, not all Christian Scientists advocate refusing medical attention in all cases (certainly not in the case of an otherwise terminal child), right? I can’t argue with you; I’m sure that many (if not most) Christian Scientists would take their child to the doctor as soon as something seemed amiss, and I’m glad—but that doesn’t change the fact that the religion discourages visiting a medical practitioner of something that should be faith-healed (i.e. stuff that isn’t broken bones or whatnot). But the truth is, whether you agree with me or not, I’m not here to attack religions (although this paragraph is about raising awareness).

There have been many times that parents have faith-healed their children to the point of death1, and I’m sure you may have read about them from time-to-time in the news. In the cases when the parents have been brought into court, they keep leaving with very light sentences—sentences that, when you compare them with 25-years-to-life, look like a walk in the park. Try the judge giving you a few months in prison and the fatherly reminder, “God probably works through other people, some of them doctors.” Oh, and they get to keep custody of their other children; we shouldn’t worry that a similar tragedy might happen to one of them, should we? And this keeps happening again, and again, and again (see footnote 1).

Now I am someone who believes in forgiveness and redemption—but before those things I believe in prevention. When the court hands out light sentences for this filicide, it becomes not a preventer, but a facilitator. It’s the equivalent of spanking someone for robbing a bank. Freedom of religion is a great gift, but we cannot extend that gift to a point where it infringes on another citizen’s most basic right—the right to life. Every American has the right to believe whatever he believes, but when that belief causes him (or her) to do evil—knowingly or not—it needs to be stopped, not encouraged. Children have died before, and they will die again until we stop accepting that a light spanking is enough to stop someone from killing. It isn’t, it never has been, and it never will be.

6 to “Neglecting Children The Right Way”

  1. Katrina says...

    I’m interested in your definition of “evil” from your last paragraph. It seems “good” and “evil” can be loose terms with flexible meanings depending on the belief system of the user.

    • paul says...

      I guess that in this case, I’m making an arbitrary call on defining “neglecting your child until it is dead” as evil. But I could see someone saying “But they think they’re helping it!” Fair enough. To me, however, that doesn’t make “leaving your child to die in the face of things that have been proven to be able to cure his/her malady” any less evil.

      – P

  2. Kevin Fitzgerald says...

    I agree, but for the sake of conversation here we go: The only way your broader position has any teeth is with a definition of evil that is resilient enough to withstand more nuanced situations then this one. You would have to define evil in a way that doesn’t end up infringing on individual thought/opinion/choice/religion, but strong enough that two people can agree on it actually being evil. We could probably come up with situations where personal belief could lead to children being dead, and still not being considered evil.

    • paul says...

      While I see your point, I simply cannot agree. It is when we say “Well, it’s not evil, because it was part of their religious belief,” that these dare-I-say murderers get off with effective impunity. If we decide not to consider what they are doing evil, we run the risk of being facilitators of the neglect and deaths ourselves. They should be treated no differently from people who neglect children without religious motivation—either way the children no longer are alive.

      – P

  3. Joey McCabe says...

    WOW posts almost everyday. You rock Paul, keep up the good work!

    • paul says...

      Thanks, my brother! I’ve run into some spare time recently, and running this blog has been a very positive way to spend my excess energy. I’m glad you are enjoying participating in its formation!

      – P

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