Children dying of treatable illnesses and Idaho law protects the practice


BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Hidden in cemeteries like Peaceful Valley in Canyon County are graves of children. Some of these kids died of curable or treatable ailments like diabetes, pneumonia and dehydration from food poisoning.

"These are not things children die of in our time this is what children died of back in the 1800's... Not in the 2000's," said child advocate Linda Martin.

Linda Martin grew up in a religious sect called Followers of Christ. Members rely on faith healing alone. Members including children do not have access to even the most basic healthcare such as antibiotics.

"It's not Stage 4 cancer (that's killing children). It's pneumonia you're talking about an antibiotic... diabetes maybe a small shot of insulin or a pill... food poisoning... dehydration... fever," Martin said.

Idaho statute 18-1501 protects practitioners of faith healing. It 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."

"As long as these laws are active in Idaho, children are going to continue to die," Martin said.

Republican Lee Heider is the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

"I believe the law is pretty straightforward. We would encourage them to seek medical care. But we don't force people to seek medical care and whether it's because they can't afford it or in this case because of their heart felt religious belief we simply don't do that," Senator Heider said.

There is a proposal handed down by the Attorney General's Office to add language to statute 18-1501. It reads "Unless the child is harmed or sickened or dies."

Senator Heider says he would not sponsor the bill but would allow it to have a hearing.

"If someone approaches me wanting to carry that legislation then yes, I'll hold a hearing. I can't guarantee the outcome of the hearing. I can't tell you what the other members of my committee would choose to do with that legislation but if someone chooses to do that I would be the first to stand up and give them the right to bring that legislation forward," said Senator Heider.

"I've spoken to several legislators and there's been no plan on presenting a bill," Martin said.

Martin has been climbing the steps at the statehouse for the last few years trying to get the law changed. She predicts she'll likely be back again next year.

"You know somebody has to stand up for the kids and so far I'm the only one," Martin said.

A child fatality review subcommittee reviews deaths caused by natural causes. It's made up of law enforcement and medical professionals. The group is urging state lawmakers to consider changing the law to protect children.

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