Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When Religion Makes the Rules American Style

Most literate and/or conscious people have heard of Madeline Kara Neumann, the 11-year-old whose parents killed her by withholding life-saving medical care, depending, instead, on the (non-existant)power of prayer to heal her end-stage diabetes.

Now, Madeline's parents have been charged with second degree reckless homocide. And rightly, I say.

In one way, at least, this, just like the killings of women I wrote about in this post, is also an honor killing. Madeline's parents were not members of any church, but her parents had their honor all tied up with their faith that prayer would heal their daughter of this very preventable and manageable disease. On the Friday before Madeline's death, as she sank further and further into the illness, her mother said, "We stayed by her side nonstop and we prayed." On the evening prior to Madeline's death, after she had already fallen off the toilet in her diabetes-caused lethargy, her parents sent out a call for help. Not to 911. But to AmericasLastDays, an online ministry run by David Eells, where they sent an e-mail saying, "Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!!"

I call this an honor-killing because, like the parents who would stone their daughters to death to prevent them from going against misogynistic, uterus-controlling, patriarchical religious laws, these parents killed their daughter to prevent her from going against their stone-age, anti-science, religious laws. Madeline's father even goes so far as to say that "given the same set of circumstances with another child, he would not waiver in his faith and confidence in the healing power of prayer." These parents had placed all their honor in the hands of a non-existent super-power, to whom they called for help as their daughter lay dying, instead of availing themselves of what ANYONE IN THE U.S. knows is the best help for illness and disease, MODERN FUCKING MEDICINE. Had they caved and taken Madeline to the hospital, their honor would have been besmirched and their dedication to their invisible friend would have been shown to be hollow. They couldn't have that!

Honor is tied to pride. Anyone who doubts this should (hopefully having already read it once) reread the parts of Homer's The Iliad concerning Achilles. The pride of the Neumann family, their arrogance in denying all evidence to the contrary and insisting on prayer over medicine, their choice of honor over their daughter's life, and now, their (or his, at least) insistence that they would do it AGAIN, have shown that they have no business being parents. I hope they get long jail sentences.

Another sad thing about this is that, having been raised by these people, Madeline herself may have chosen prayer over medicine as well, had she been given the choice. I'll bet she WASN'T given the choice, but in a family as prideful, arrogant, and honor-bound to follow their dangerous and deadly non-entity, I'll bet it didn't even occur to her, in her illness, that there might be another way, a way that would let her live. Poor child. I grieve for her.

UPDATE: Go to Pharyngula for more information - apparently, the great State of Wisconsin has a law on its books that allows parents to kill their children for religious reasons. I'm now hoping that this case will overthrow that law and set a new precedent. Children have no choice!!! If a parent wants to kill him or herself, then FINE. But let's give the children the benefit of the doubt and assume they would prefer to live until they can make the choice themselves.


Shawn Francis Peters said...

The legal issues in this case, and the similar one that is transpiring in Oregon, are complex, to say the least. If you're interested, I'm writing about them on my "Religious Convictions" blog, and they're also covered in my book (from Oxford) WHEN PRAYER FAILS: FAITH HEALING, CHILDREN, AND THE LAW.

Anonymous said...

Having worked with and researched dishonor killings for years, I just don't see the connection between Madeline's death and a dishonor killing (other than that they are both preventable tragedies). There are different dynamics altogether going on between this and a dishonor killing. And there have already been legal consequences for Madeline's parents, which isn't the case in many dishonor killings cases.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Maleficent said...

Ellen -
True that. My mind was more on a "harm caused by religion" track, and reading both articles within an hour of each other set me off.

I will be interested to see what the Neumanns consequences will be, and I fear that one potential, and, depending on the worldview of the judge (or jury - didn't see if it would be a jury trial or not), likely, outcome will be a slap on the hand rather than anything more appropriate.

Definitions of honor, IMO, are, like religious beliefs, defined differently in different cultures/sects. Still, while actively stoning one's child to death to preserve one's honor may be more morally repugnant, passively allowing one's child to die to preserve one's honor is no less horrible. That's the connection my mind made while I was angrily typing.

I am interested in your book and will check it out. Thanks.

Maleficent said...

Shawn -

I will definitely check your blog and look into your book. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The STOP HONORCIDE! campaign was launched on Mother's Day 2008. The goal of the campaign is to prosecute honorcides to the fullest extent of the law. We want honorcide to be classified as a hate crime and we advocate for every existing hate crime legislation to be amended to include honorcide.