Yes, there is a solution to child medical neglect

During this legislative session, Idahoans marched to the Capitol with 183 child-sized coffins representing Idaho children who have died in sects opposed to medical care. This number of deaths is certainly an underestimate since many children in sects that shun medical care are born at home, don’t have birth certificates and don’t have their deaths investigated by county authorities – because medical neglect of these children is legal in Idaho.

In 1971, Idaho law was changed to allow medical neglect of children through a religious exemption. The direct result of this law is that injured and sick children in Idaho are allowed to suffer and die from treatable illnesses, such as pneumonia and gastroenteritis (stomach flu), and injuries.

Advances in medical treatment and prevention have resulted in a 90 percent reduction in death rates in U.S. children since 1935 and 50 percent reduction just since 1980. Yet children in these sects are denied the benefits of these advances. Many of the 183 children honored in the march had common infectious diseases, diabetes or other conditions for which treatment is routine.

Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State address on Jan. 8 reminded us of government’s role in “helping individual citizens realize their full potential” and the government’s responsibility to provide “equal protection under the law” as called for in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

But since 1971, Idaho children have been denied equal protection. Idaho law gives parents’ beliefs against medical care greater importance than a child’s right to life and health.

In a Statesman article published after the march, Sen. Dan Foreman was quoted as saying legislators had “agoniz[ed] over this almost to the point of tears,” but “there is no solution.” Hogwash.

The 1971 Idaho Legislature created this problem and now the Legislature must fix it. First, they must choose to protect children who have no voice from the flesh-and-blood consequences of medical neglect. Quite simply, the law should return to pre-1971 language in place since Idaho was a territory; it required parents to provide “necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical attendance” for their children without a religious exemption.

Legislators need to act on behalf of people like Willie Hughes. As a child, he watched two little brothers suffer and die, and he himself suffered from lack of medical care for childhood illness and injury, only to have his parents get medical for their own illnesses. The Ada Country coroner also testified about the death of a child from untreated diabetes based on religion grounds, only to find out much later that the father treated his own diabetes with insulin. This is child neglect, pure and simple.

Read the full story at the Idaho Statesmen

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