Faith Healing Law That Allows Religious Parents to Let Children Die Could Be Changed in Idaho

(Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)Attendees bow their heads in prayer at the morning plenary session of the Values Voter Summit in Washington September 26, 2014.

A 1972 Idaho law that allows parents with religious objections to medical treatment the legal right to let their children die from medically preventable illnesses could face changes this year if legislators pushing to amend the law have their way.

According to KTVB, Democrat Rep. John Gannon has drafted a bill that aims to hold religious parents or guardians liable if their decision to use prayer as medical treatment causes harm or death to sick children under their care.

Sub-section 4 of section 18-1501 of the Idaho Code currently reads "The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child."

Gannon's bill is expected to change the sub-section to include "unless such practice creates an imminent risk or permanent physical harm or death."

The lawmaker told KTVB that he is hoping that the bill is put up for debate on the Idaho House floor.

"I think there has been a positive reception from some ... and some would rather, some avoidance from others, not really negative, oh boy how are we going to solve this? And it's not an easy one to solve," Gannon explained.

Sen. Lee Heider, chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee, said however that he has seen or heard nothing about the possible faith healing bill and suggested that he did not think the issue will be up for discussion soon.

"As far as I know there has been no bill printed, nor has anyone approached me on the issue of carrying a bill in committee. So from my knowledge there is no bill and it's probably not an issue that will come up this session," Heider said.

Other Idaho officials argue however that the current law, highlighted as a concern by the Governor's Task Force on Children at Risk, needs to be amended.

"First and foremost the state needs to address it," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue told ABC 6. "At the end of the day, I think the state needs to do whatever it takes to protect children."

The Followers of Christ, an infamous religious group that shuns western medical practices and embrace only healing by the power of prayer have been accused of allowing children to die from preventable deaths. The causes of death range from food poisoning and diabetes to pneumonia and heart defects.

Sheriff Donahue told ABC 6 that lawmakers need to remove the religious shield from state law.

Not everyone agrees.

"I would say leave it alone," Canyon County Coroner Vicki DeGues-Morris said. "I took my children to the doctors, I go to the doctor, but that's my way of living. I can't judge somebody else's way living."

Idaho is one of six states in the U.S. where religious exemptions are allowed for negligent homicide, manslaughter or capital murder, according to ABC 6.

Sheriff Donahue argues, however, that keeping the exemption will dangerously open the law to more negative interpretations.

"Where does it end?" he asked. "If it's okay to do this under this belief system, then is it okay to do it under this believe system? Or this belief system? Or that believe system?"

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