The state Supreme Court is now struggling with a thorny question. Does the language of Wisconsin's homicide law allow parents to let their child die of a preventable disease because they choose to pray instead of seeking medical care?
Dale and Leilani Neumann of Wausau were convicted of reckless homicide in the 2008 death of their daughter Madeline. She died from uncontrolled diabetes mellitus after her parents had spent month trying to heal her through prayer. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week the lawyer for Leilani Neumann, Byron Lichstein, said Wisconsin law grants parents a broad immunity from prosecution when they choose to depend on faith healing to care for a child.
"Whether you like the policy behind the immunity or not the legislature created it and it applies to substantial risk of death," Lichstein said. "It's not the province of the state or this court to make the privilege smaller than the legislature made it."
The attorney for Dale Neumann, Steven Miller, told Justice Annette Ziegler there is a line that the court can draw between protecting a child's life and protecting a parents right to practice faith healing, "As long as the parent is able to substitute medical care with spiritual treatment then there cannot at the same time be a duty to provide medical treatment." Ziegler: "So then what I hear you saying is that you can never charge a parent who treats through prayer with homicide." Miller: "No, I think they could " Ziegler: "When does that duty start?:" Miller: "I think it would start when there is evidence of imminent death."
Miller says that would be in cases such as a car accident or drowning or serious bleeding, but not in cases of disease. The court will rule on the case sometime this spring or summer.