Faith Healing Vilified in Wake of Girl's Death

By Richardson, Valerie | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

Faith Healing Vilified in Wake of Girl's Death


Richardson, Valerie, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


DENVER - The painful death of a 13-year-old diabetic girl in Colorado has reignited the debate over where to draw the line between religious freedom and child neglect.

The state legislature is considering a bill that would repeal the religious exemption to the state's child-abuse law, making it easier to prosecute parents who deliberately withhold medical treatment in favor of prayer or faith healing.

The measure comes in the wake of a statewide uproar surrounding the Feb. 6 death of Amanda Bates, who died of complications from juvenile diabetes. Her parents, Randy and Colleen Bates, who belong to the General Assembly Church of the First Born in Grand Junction, Colo., refused to seek a doctor's care for Amanda, citing their belief in the power of prayer to heal her.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Kay Alexander, argues that the repeal is needed to "protect Colorado's children" from the current law, which says no child who receives prayer as a "recognized method of religious healing" is considered neglected.

"[The bill] does not disregard the right to pray for healing or religious freedom," said Mrs. Alexander, a Republican. "It does stop faith-based medical neglect."

But Christian Scientists, who have emerged as the bill's leading opponents even though Amanda was not a member of their church, argued that the proposal would have a chilling effect on their freedom to worship.

"If this passed, then I would lose some of the protection I had. I would be afraid to practice my religion," said Christian Scientist Marian English, who raised her three now-adult children without the aid of doctors.

Christian Scientists have defeated two previous attempts in the past 12 years to strike the religious exemption, but overcoming the public outrage over Amanda's death promises to be their most difficult hurdle yet. Since 1974, 11 First Born children have died or been stillborn in Colorado after receiving no medical care.

Mesa County Coroner Robert Kurtzman, who has ruled the death a homicide, said Amanda would be alive today if she had received medical care for what he described as an "easily recognized and treatable disorder." Instead, he said, she died a "slow and agonizing death" during which her body wasted away to skeletal proportions.

Amanda is the second child the Bates family has buried - a younger brother died of what was ruled as sudden infant death syndrome - and Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels has vowed that she will be the last. His office is now considering whether to file charges against her parents, and the Colorado District Attorneys Council has endorsed the repeal proposal.

"As of now, the state of Colorado is endorsing a law which injures and even kills children," said Mr. Daniels.

Colorado lawmakers have tried twice to repeal the religious exemption, but a recent hearing showed why they have yet to succeed. At a hearing before the House Criminal Justice Committee last week, opponents of the legislation from the Church of Christian Science packed the room, outnumbering the bill's supporters 4 to 1.

Despite the church's strong showing, the committee approved the measure 8-3. The bill is now pending consideration before the full House.

Christian Science has no affiliation with the cluster of faith-healing sects that pepper that state's rural Western Slope, including the Church of the First Born, the Church of Jon and Judy and the Disciple Fellowship Church. Christian Scientists also deny they practice faith healing, insisting their prayer-based method is simply an alternative form of health care. They note that both the Internal Revenue Service and most insurance companies recognize Christian Science healing.

But Christian Scientists fear that any attempt to clamp down on the faith-healing traditions of other churches will put their members in legal jeopardy.

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