Religious Exemptions, Modern Medicine, and Dead Kids

by Kyle Byron

If you’re like the vast majority of citizens in this country, you are aware, and approve of in a general way, the benefits of modern medicine. Aspirin, antibiotics, your dentist’s local anesthetic. These are all things you’ve used (and appreciated) at one time or another. You may be wondering why I would posit such an obvious, mundane fact. You might not be aware that there is a group of people, some in your own neighborhood perhaps, who, as part of their “faith tradition,” believe that modern medicine is not only not helpful, but is, in fact, some if not all of the following: literal physical bodily poison, satan’s plan of destruction for mankind, completely unnecessary because of the much superior healing power of prayer.

And you may be equally unaware that many of those people get together with like-minded people of the opposite sex, interview each other for compatibility over dinner at the local Denny’s, get married, and have children.

I submit to you, gentle readers, Dale and Shannon Hickman of Oregon City, Oregon. They were recently convicted (in a unanimous jury decision which they are now appealing) of second-degree manslaughter after a bacterial infection caused their child’s death a mere nine hours after the miracle of birth. Apparently this was all part of God’s Plan (because there is nothing that is not, of course).

Let’s put aside for a moment how it must have felt for this woman of faith to travel the long road of pregnancy without even an over-the-counter Advil in the delivery room (which was most likely the living room of their home—draped strategically with a bit of plastic sheeting one would hope). She is clearly a long-suffering individual with strong convictions who can take some pain in the name of the Father, the Son, etc., etc. When asked why she did not call 911 to try and help her dying son, she responded in court: “The wife submits to the man, and he’s the head of the household.”

The real tragedy that unravels itself daily in this country is that children, wiped off with some moist towelettes, perhaps, and placed in a crib, are now, completely and without voice or recourse to anyone of sound mind, 100% reliant on fine folks like these for their each and every need. They might be hungry. They might need to take a piss. They might need to wipe some afterbirth from between a toe or two.

But! Unless and until these holy rollers decide it is God’s Will, none of the former shall be done. Now you may say to me, Sir, this is one of many personal, hallowed Belief Systems and we shan’t persecute people for their beliefs! We must be sensitive to them and respect their right to believe what they want to believe. Astonishingly, a mish-mash of State laws backs you up on that, and has since the seventies. Especially as it relates to how one goes about administering (or not) a little tyke’s medical care.

How Religious Exemptions Got Started
In 1974, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare required that states include exemptions from prosecution for child abuse and neglect if the parents had (not) acted on “religious grounds.” If states had refused to enact the exemptions, the Feds would have withheld child abuse protection grant money. So states scrambled to add religious exemptions to otherwise protective child abuse laws. In 1983, the Feds allowed states to repeal this insanity. But guess what? Many states didn’t bother, and so, to this day, you too can do nothing but pray for your daughter’s gangrene to get better, and when she dies a few weeks later from the untold agony of a perfectly preventable disease, then simply claim your state-sponsored get-out-of-jail-free card. Hallelujah, brother.

There are countless cases, and it will continue to be this way for many years to come. It’s like a slow-rolling Black Plague, sung to the tune of “Suffer the Little Children to Come Unto Me.” Are there people working to try and stop this? Of course, but they are few and far between, the laws are byzantine, and plenty of folks are fighting to keep them in place, waving crosses and shouting about The Gays and whatnot. The Christian Scientist Church is the worst offender. Don’t you just love the name?

What To Do About It?
Here’s how you can help: go to CHILD, Inc. and give them all your money. Or as much as you can. They are a group of legal experts fighting the good fight against these laws. Their founder, Rita Swan, has a heartbreaking story that will inspire you (unless you are a member of the Oregon church that killed little Dale Hickman Jr.). Those people are probably praying for Rita’s swift and painful death. As long as CHILD is making progress chipping away at the abusive and murderous exemptions granted the faithful at Oregon City’s Followers of Christ Church (and thousands of others around the country), we can all sleep a little better at night.

CHILD, Inc. info

As Sam Harris points out in his book The Moral Landscape, we human beings have clear, universal, humanistic moral imperatives. Belief systems of any stripe have absolutely nothing to teach us about these imperatives. Brain science, the social sciences, anthropology and other scientific models should and will lead the way. It’s a shame organizations like CHILD are necessary at all.

The End
How about a fiery postmark to this fire-and-brimstone rant against these religious wackos? I’m going to share a couple of personal thoughts that might shock the thinner-skinned:

  1. I am glad the child is dead. Truly. Death saved this little boy from a miserable life of abuse, unnecessary pain and suffering, and the kind of tortured brainwashing that takes years of therapy to unravel (if he ever would have had the chance). A few hours of pain from a bacterial infection was all he knew of this world. Given what an entire lifetime would have looked like in that house, that’s a small blessing.
  2. The real injustice in this case is that these child-killing bastards weren’t permanently, medically sterilized and placed on a national (nay—worldwide) list of people who are too violent and abusive to ever adopt or otherwise be in contact with children. Amen.
Kyle Byron is a writer and musician working on new online gaming technologies. He doubles on trumpet and flugel in the hippest jazz combo you've never heard of.

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