Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I have to admit I'm a tad cross about this.

So a while back I blogged about the unfortunate case of Madeline Neumann, a little girl who died because her parents chose to rely on faith healing rather than modern medicine. This is particularly tragic because Madeline died from an undiagnosed but entirely treatable form of diabetes. I initially mentioned this case way back in April of 2008 and have been following it off and on since then.

Well, the trial has been resolved and that resolution is nothing if not frightening:

Dale and Leilani Neumann, of Wisconsin, could have received up to 25 years in prison over the 2008 death of Madeline Neumann, who was known as Kara.

The 11-year-old died of an undiagnosed but treatable form of diabetes.

Judge Vincent Howard ordered the couple to serve one month in jail each year for the next six years.


In addition to the custodial sentence, the Neumanns were also put on 10 years' probation, as part of which they must allow a nurse to examine their two youngest surviving children at least once every three months, and must immediately take their children to a doctor in case of any serious injuries.

Yes, that's right: they received 1/50th of the prison time they were eligible for, and have even had that time spread out into relatively easy increments over six years. Doubtless the judge spread this time out so as to not deprive their other children of parents for a lengthy period but, then again, given that the judge apparently doesn't trust the Neumanns not to pull this shit again, one wonders why that should be an overriding concern? Some of the real fun, however, comes later:

In their defence, the parents said they believed healing came from God, and that they had not expected their daughter to die as they prayed for her.

Jay Kronenwetter, Mr Neumann's lawyer, was asked in a BBC interview if he thought his client had got off lightly.

"My client sees spiritual treatment as the proper medicine and I suspect the people who want harsher punishment see Western medicine as the proper medicine, I guess therein lies the difference," he told the BBC World Service.

"My clients just happen to have a belief that is very outside of our social norm."

The couple are appealing against their convictions.

Okay, wow, first of all: did the Neumann's get off lightly? Well, they got 1/50th of the time they were eligible for so, really, I think you'd have to say yes. That's just reality. Second, maybe I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure the Neumanns are as "western" as I am. It isn't like they just immigrated from sub-Saharan Africa or something for fuck's sake. Third, yes, they have a belief outside of the social norm, but you know what? We can TREAT DIABETES successfully. I mean, we've done the f-ing studies, thousands of physicians and scientists have busted their asses, we can totally deal with that. Faith healing is NOT comparable to scientific medicine, if only because medicine works and faith healing... you know... doesn't. And don't even get me started on their appeals- when the judge basically just gives you a light scolding for killing your daughter, at least have the common decency to just shut the fuck up and take your punishment.

Let's move on, however, as my frank outrage over what they did is not productive or entertaining. Instead, let's consider the implications of this ruling. A parent has coercive power over their children, pretty much any way you slice it. Likewise, if I were to kidnap someone and hold them prisoner I would also have coercive authority over that person. Now, imagine that I denied a person whom I kidnapped the medications necessary to treat their diabetes and, as a result, they died while I was holding them. If I were to go to trial, I would doubtless be charged with manslaughter at the very least, and quite possibly negligent homicide if not murder outright. Moreover, when it came time for sentencing, I should expect to be hit even harder because I let my prisoner die slowly through neglect. I would be labeled as a heartless monster for such behavior and would almost certainly have the book thrown at me. So, why then did the Neumanns get off for the same thing so lightly? The answer is religion.

See, they had a religious belief- however poorly founded, however obviously wrong as their daughter lay dying on their living room floor- that god would see to their needs. And because of this belief not only is their daughter dead, but they are given what amounts to a free pass. It isn't really their fault, you see, because god told them to let their daughter die while they talked to themselves. Makes perfect sense. And honestly I shouldn't even be surprised given that Christianity glorifies this kind of madness quite unselfconsciously. The thing is, though, if that defense works here, then why not for terrorists? After all, if god tells the Neumanns to let their daughter die, why can't god tell a man to plant a bomb in a train station? And if we give the Neumanns a light sentence because, obviously, they couldn't decide to go against god, then aren't we obligated to do the same thing for a terrorist? Now, this is obviously a case of reductio ad absurdum, and as such I do not want you to view it as valid in and of itself. Nevertheless, however, this points out an issue of particular importance: our supposedly secular government is, in fact, not. In reality, it not only defers to religion- even in cases where some of us have allowed others of us to die in a most foul manner- but even chooses among religions preferentially in deciding which are valid and which are not. Wacky Christian faith? Adequate defense for murder. Wacky Islamic faith? Absolutely not a defense for murder.

There are those who believe without irony that there is some sort of war on Christianity in these United States. To maintain such a perspective is to cling desperately to a mind-boggling degree of willful ignorance.

For the record: some folks might suggest that I should go easy since the Neumanns have lost a daughter. True enough, and I do sympathize with that, but I have little sympathy for them. It wasn't an accident, it wasn't an untreatable disorder. It was fucking diabetes. I do not sympathize with the Neumanns, I instead sympathize with their daughter who was sacrificed to their god as surely as if she had her veins opened on an altar.

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Blogger Jay Livingston said...

Just curious, Drek: what sentence would you have given the Neumanns, and why?

Thursday, October 15, 2009 2:08:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Jay,

Well, that's the kind of reasonable and fair-minded question that's just guaranteed to ruin a good blog. So you've got that to answer for...

Okay, seriously, you raise a good question and the honest response is that I'm not sure. I am not, of course, immune to the logic that their child is dead and, therefore, we can't really punish them worse than they're already being punished. That said, how they are punished depends somewhat on the penal theory we rely on. Punishment in and of itself- as a way of balancing the scales so to speak- seems to me to be rather pointless. Punishment to effect a change in the behavior of the punished is more logical, but in this case I suspect is unlikely to be successful. My admittedly vague impressions of the trial suggest that they would probably do the same thing again in the same circumstances and I doubt that a prison term of any length would change that. So, punishment as behavior modification is also out. That really just leaves punishment as a deterrent to others. In this case it seems that punishment may serve a useful purpose BUT if someone is able to let their child suffer to such an extent over such a length of time then it seems to me that six months in prison will not provide a sufficient deterrent effect. Perhaps two to four years would be more appropriate, but I am loathe to be specific without knowing more details of the case.

The reality of the situation, for me, is that I am more annoyed by my suspicion that the relative success of the defense was motivated less by legal logic and more by religious sympathies, which it seems to me is problematic. It is difficult at best to see how a pluralistic society can maintain the rule of law if courts not only give way to religious commands, but give preferential treatment to some of those religious commands over others. Given that I'm not familiar with every detail of the case, however, it was probably inappropriate for me to refer to the sentence as a wrist slapping and you were right to call me on it.

Friday, October 16, 2009 6:31:00 AM  

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