It would be extremely easy to poke fun at the utterly idiotic and opportunistic letter that three Christian MPs, Gary Streeter, Gavin Shuker and Tim Farron, have sent to the Advertising Standards Authority in an effort to persuade/pressure them to overturn a recent ruling on the contents of a website owned by a Bath-based Christian group, Healing on the Streets – Bath – and if, for any reason, you’re not sure why then Martin Robbins has already done a fine job of eviscerating the contents of the letter.
However, there’s another side to this story which shows that this attempted intervention is no laughing matter and with that firmly in mind, I’d like to introduce you to a few reasons why I don’t find the letter in slightest bit amusing.
Let’s kick things off with…
Zachary Sweezey – Sweezey died on Match 18 2009, aged 17, of a ruptured appendix after falling ill several days earlier. Rather than take him to a hospital, Sweezey’s parents tried to heal him with prayer.
On March 6 2012 Gregory and Garnet Sweezey entered pleas of not guilty to a charge of second degree murder for which they are due to stand trial later this year.
Baby Hickman – In September 2011, Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of the second degree murder of their unnamed child. The child had been born prematurely in September 2009 and died 9 hours later due to a bacterial infection that could had been treated had its parents taken the child to a hospital. Unfortunately, for the child, Dale and Shannon Hickman are members of an Oregon City-based church, ‘Followers of Christ’, which practices faith healing and teaches its followers that modern medicine is poison, although this didn’t prevent the Hickman’s defence attourney from calling on doctors to testify on their behalf.
Neil Jeffrey Beagley – Neil was 16 years old when he died, in 2008, of complications from an undiagnosed congenital urinary blockage, for which he was ‘treated’ by his parents – who also members of the Followers of Christ Church, Oregon – with prayer, anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. Neil’s parents, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, were convicted of criminally negligent homicide in February 2010.
Ava Worthington – Ava Worthington, the 15 month old granddaughter of Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, died in 2008 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection, for which she was treated with prayer, anointing and laying on of hands. Worthington’s parents, Carl Brent Worthington and Raylene Worthington (nee Beagley) were acquitted of a charge of second degree manslaughter in 2009. Carl Brent Worthington was, however, convicted on a lesser charge (criminal mistreatment) and sentenced to 60 days in prison and five years probation.
Madeline Kara Neumann – Died aged 11 years, on March 28 2008, of undiagnosed diabetes while her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann knelt by her bedside and prayed for their daughter instead of seeking medical treatment. The Neumann’s were convicted of second degree reckless homicide in May 2009 and sentenced to 10 years probation and six months imprisonment, the latter being suspended pending an appeal.
Cheryl Zirkle – died in childbirth on May 7 1997, aged 21 years – of a treatable intrauterine infection that was commonplace a century earlier but rarely even heard of today. Zirkle chose not to seek medical help for religious reasons.
Janae McDowell – died August 30 1996, aged 36, of an infection, 36 hours after a difficult 72-hour labour of a breech baby. McDowell did not seek medical help for religious reasons. The baby also died.
Jacqueline K. Beagley – died March 20, 1990, aged 26, of a massive infection after a rupture of the fetal membrane. Beagley was in labour for four days and, again, did not seek medical help for religious reasons. Her child, a boy, also died.
Melissa K. Smith -Feb. 20 1986, aged 18, of an infection after two days in labour. Had she sought medical help, doctors would have discovered that her baby had died in the womb several days before Smith went into labour – this was the cause of the infection that killed her.
Do I need to go on?
Should I mention the sad case of Wayne Trevette Glory, who died in 1999 of untreated meningitis and pneumonia – Wayne was only 18 days old when he died and his parents were subsequently prosecuted for child abuse and sentenced to probation.
How about Jessica Crank? She died in 2002, aged only 15 years, after her mother and the spiritual leader of her family’s church chose to ‘treat’ Jessica for a rare form of bone cancer using – you’ve guessed it – prayer. Jessica’s mother ended up getting ‘lucky’ in the sense that she was indicted by a grand jury on charges of child abuse only for these to be dropped on a technicality that the grand jury had missed – the law only allowed child abuse charges to be brought in relation to under 13s, and Jessica’s cancer wasn’t diagnosed until she was 14. However lucky the mother was, it certainly didn’t rub off on her daughter.
Had enough yet?
Or should I mention Alice Leech, who bled to death during childbirth in 1976, aged only 24 – one of the women who attended the birth and prayed rather that take Alice to hospital was a registered nurse, although she did lose her licence to practice. Oh, did I forget to mention that the baby died with her.
Or how about 4 year old Alex Morris, another casualty from Oregon City. Alex had a fever and congestion and was prayed over and anointed with oil for 46 days before he died, when all he actually needed was a course of fucking antibiotics.
A study by Seth Asser and Rita Swann, which was published in 1997 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Association of Pediatrics, lays out the facts of faith healing:
Objective. To evaluate deaths of children from families in which faith healing was practiced in lieu of medical care and to determine if such deaths were preventable.
Design. Cases of child fatality in faith-healing sects were reviewed. Probability of survival for each was then estimated based on expected survival rates for children with similar disorders who receive medical care.
Participants. One hundred seventy-two children who died between 1975 and 1995 and were identified by referral or record search. Criteria for inclusion were evidence that parents withheld medical care because of reliance on religious rituals and documentation sufficient to determine the cause of death.
Results. One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of >50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help.
Conclusions. When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical neglect.
God didn’t heal any of those kids today, or any fucking day.
They died, most of them unnecessarily, because their parents believed in the power of prayer only to discover the hard way that their god doesn’t run errands.