Children sometimes die or become disabled when they fail to receive medical treatment because of the strongly held religious or philosophical beliefs or practices of their parents. The numbers of such incidents of neglect are hard to ascertain reliably, but there are increasingly frequent reports in the mass media. We believe the reported cases represent the most extreme examples of a larger problem. According to newspaper reports, the following are some specific cases that have come to recent attention: (1) A 4-year-old girl in Sacramento, CA, died of bacterial meningitis; her only treatment was spiritual healing by a Christian Science practitioner (Sacramento Bee, April 21, 1984). (2) Two children died of pneumonia and meningitis in Indiana. Both sets of parents were prosecuted for withholding medical care from their children. The parents belonged to the Faith Assembly, a sect that relies exclusively on faith healing (Medical World News, Oct 4, 1984). (3) A 2½-year-old boy died in Boston of bowel obstruction in April 1986 following five days of treatment by a Christian Science practitioner and nurse (Boston Globe, April 10, 1986). (4) A 16-month-old Santa Monica, CA, boy died of bacterial meningitis; his only treatment was prayer by a Christian Science practitioner. (Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1984). (5) Parents of a 13-month-old boy in Coshocton, OH, who died with bacterial (Streptococcus pneumoniae) pericarditis were tried and released because of religious exemption protection. The child had received no medical care because the parents were members of the Christ Assembly, a group that believes in healing by prayer (Columbia Citizen-Journal, June 15, 1984).
- Copyright © 1988 by the American Academy of Pediatrics