by | Mar 30, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Prayer is good. But it doesn’t mean you can just sit there.

An 11-year-old Wisconsin girl grew deathly ill recently while her parents prayed for her recovery. They weren’t in a hospital. They weren’t in an emergency room. They were in their home. Although the girl had probably, for about a month, shown symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and extreme thirst – all signs of a diabetic condition – they refused to call a doctor.

God, they felt, would take care of it.

“We stayed fast in prayer,” the mother told the media. “We believed that she would recover.”

Instead, the girl died.

The parents say they follow the Bible. But someone has to show me where in the Bible it says that doctors are evil, a heathen concept, an insult to your faith. Until then, these cases of adults allowing children to suffer – in some cases, die – in the name of true believing is nothing more than killing while on your knees.

The girl, Madeline Neumann, reportedly had not seen a doctor since she was 3. Three? That alone is a serious concern. How many of your kids went from 3 to 11 without a doctor visit?

But to have a child endure diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening insulin loss that, in any normal case is highly observable (fatigue, constant thirst and urination, severe weight loss, vomiting), and to stand by and ask God to fix it, well, that’s not noble. That’s not righteous.

That’s child abuse.

If not murder. Too little, way too late

In the end, only a sister-in-law’s call to police led to intervention. According to media reports, the extended family had been trying to convince the Neumanns to get their daughter help for several days. “She believes in faith instead of doctors,” the woman reportedly told a police dispatcher of the mother.

When authorities finally arrived at the house, an ambulance was called, but it proved too late.

Now investigators must decide what to do. Should they charge anything? Was a crime committed here? The mother claimed that she didn’t really notice serious symptoms with her daughter, just “a tiredness within the last two weeks” and a sudden turn for the worst.

But her own relatives were concerned enough to call police. Besides, going eight years without a doctor is a pretty sure sign you think outsiders are not necessary. Most parents go running to physicians if their kid so much as sneezes. Ignoring diabetic reactions, at least the kind that usually come with ketoacidosis, suggests a deliberate choice against medical aid.

Now, it is not my place to tell people their beliefs, but I will say this: If you think you can make it on your own, the hands of God moving you around the board, that’s your prerogative.

But don’t decide that for your child.

A child must be protected. Parents have that obligation. And if they fail it, society should be a backstop. Knowing when to act

Now I know there are many of us who believe “God has a plan.” And I hope and pray that’s true.

But I’m betting His plan doesn’t include us sitting around doing nothing. We work, yet have faith. We have fun, yet have faith. We eat, yet have faith. If you can indulge in some form of 21st-Century activity, why not others?

Faith is good. In my view, it’s vital. But in this day and age, to refuse to see doctors is living in a time warp. And when a child’s life is threatened, ignoring the modern world should not be an option.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: A fisherman is drowning. He prays to God to save him. A boat comes and offers him a rope. “No, God will save me,” he says. Another boat comes. “God will save me,” he repeats. A third boat. Same thing. Finally, he drowns.

When he gets to heaven, he’s upset. He asks God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God says, “I sent you three boats.”

Maybe God sent us doctors, nurses and the intellect to fight and cure our diseases, too. In that case, praying while Madeline died was not only misinterpreting faith, it was insulting it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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