Cases of Childhood Deaths Due to Parental Religious Objection to Necessary Medical Care

The following case summaries of children who died due to their parents' choice to adhere strictly to their religious beliefs against medical care is taken, with permission, directly from material copyrighted by CHILD, Inc.

Christian Science: 

Seth Ian Glaser, 17 months, died March 28, 1984, in Culver City, California of h-flu meningitis (bacterial meningitis). The parents used only a Christian Science "practitioner" and obtained no medical care for Seth. The parents said that on March 27th, Seth seemed ill and very tired, so they requested absent "treatment" from a church practitioner. At various points Seth seemed to improve, but then relapsed.

Symptoms on the 27th were fever, coughing, and rapid breathing and heart rate. The next morning the baby's body turned blue and he vomited up food. At 11 a.m. the parents decided that Seth's condition was serious and that they should take him to the "healer." However, they had to wait for a 1 p.m. appointment. En route Seth went into convulsions that lasted for 90-second periods. His arms and legs became rigid. Even at this point, Seth's parents testified that they did not seriously consider taking Seth to an emergency room. Alarmed at the severity of Seth's illness, the Christian Science practitioner called the church legal advisor who told her that they had the legal right to withhold medical care.

At 2:45 p.m. Seth stopped breathing. At this point another practitioner who reputedly had succeeded in resurrecting the dead was contacted. Not until 11 P.m. that night was Seth's body allowed to be taken by mortuary personnel. Seth's mother was charged with manslaughter and child endangerment; however, in a trial conducted without a jury, the Court directed a verdict in favor of the defendant.

Natalie Rippberger, eight months, died December 9, 1984 in Santa Rosa, California, of h-flu meningitis. The parents, Mark and Susan Rippberger, had retained a Christian Science practitioner for spiritual "treatment" but would not get essential medical care for their daughter. The infection began approximately two weeks before Natalie's death. Details of the course of Natalie's illness were provided by the Christian Science "nurse," who before her conversion to Christian Science was a licensed medical nurse. (After Natalie's death the nurse left Christian Science and returned to studies in medical nursing.)

On December 4th, Natalie was going through periods in which her eyes were rolling and jerking (the disease organism attacks tissue controlling eye muscles) and her legs became rigid. On the 6th, Natalie was having very heavy convulsions. She was very rigid and her eyes were rolling back in her head. She also was very hot to the touch on the 7th, and the heavy convulsions continued. The only care provided to Natalie by the nurse involved Christian Science nursing "care": bathing, changing Natalie's sheets, bible reading, and prayer. Not once was a doctor called, although medical care has a 92 percent success rate in treating the disease.

In the spring of 1984, six months before Natalie's death, two sets of Christian Science parents were already under indictment in California for the death of their children because of their refusal to obtain medical care for them. Both children died of h-flu meningitis. In December, the Rippbergers called California Christian Science Church officials for advice about their desperately ill child. It is inconceivable the Church official spoken to by the Rippbergers did not know of the two indictments. According to Rippbergers' testimony, the official must have told them that they could legally withhold medical treatment from Natalie. Nevertheless, Natalie's parents, Mark and Susan Rippberger, were charged with felony child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. Both were convicted of felony child endangerment.

Shauntay Walker, age four, died March 8, 1984, in Sacramento, California, of h-flu meningitis. Shauntay was home sick from her pre-school for 17 days. She received no medical care, only Christian Science "care." Shauntay's cousin, Danyelle, saw her 6 days before her death. Danyelle reported that Shauntay seemed unable to move her arms and legs and that her body was stiff. Shauntay's aunt, Claudia, reported that on March 8th, Shauntay was comatose and had lost a lot of weight. She told Shauntay's mother, Laurie, to take Shauntay to the doctor, but Laurie refused. Claudia then told Laurie she would notify the authorities about Shauntay's condition. Laurie responded to her sister's threat by moving her children to the home of another Christian Scientist. Shauntay died there a few hours later.

A Christian Science practitioner was retained by Laurie Walker for her daughter on February 21st-over two weeks before her death. She visited Shauntay only twice during her deadly illness. The practitioner denied seeing the symptom of Shauntay's stiff neck (an immediate sign of possible meningitis) and lack of responsiveness pointed out to her by Laurie. Laurie Walker was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and on June 21, 1990, over six years after her daughter's death, she pled guilty to that charge in a negotiated plea which left her no room to appeal. Laurie was sentenced to 600 hours of community service, and was instructed by the Court to provide medical care for her remaining daughter until the daughter's eighteenth birthday. Ms. Walker is currently appealing the decision.

Amy Hermanson, age seven, died September 30, 1986, in Sarasota, Florida, of untreated juvenile onset diabetes. Her parents refused to provide her with necessary medical care. Her illness began in late August of 1986. The course of her illness is documented in the testimony from the trial of her parents for felony child abuse and third degree murder.

In August, Amy became thinner, her bones started to protrude through her skin, she developed dark circles under her eyes and her skin developed a bluish tinge. At school she often could not keep awake and would put her head on her desk and fall asleep. Amy's aunt reported that in the 2 weeks before her death Amy had lost 10 pounds, that her eyes were sunken and were functioning separately and that she could barely walk and often had to be carried.

On Friday, August 26th, four days before her death, Amy's appearance was skeletal, according to a teacher. Amy told the teacher that she had been vomiting a lot and had been unable to sleep for a few nights. At the end, Amy had lapsed into a coma; she was lying on a bed without sheets; the sheets were found soaking nearby in several buckets with black vomit on them.

A Christian Science "practitioner" had been retained to "treat" Amy, with prayer, on August 22nd. Following Amy's death, Chris Hermanson, Amy's mother, stated that Amy had been healed by Christian Science the morning of her death, but that Amy had make her own decision to pass on. Mrs. Hermanson had constantly claimed during Amy's illness that Amy was having an emotional problem deciphering her identity. She also states that Amy had become sick because of negative vibrations received from outside the home. Amy's parents were charged with felony child abuse and third degree murder. Both were convicte on the charge of third degree murder.

Ian Lundman, age 11, died May 9, 1989, in Minneapolis, Minnesota of medically untreated juvenile onset diabetes. His mother and stepfather, as Christian Scientists, had the boy treated by a church practitioner instead of a medical doctor. Ian died in a diabetic coma.

On October 9th, 1989, the parents and the Christian Science practitioner attending Ian were indicted for manslaughter by a grand jury. However, in April, 1990, a trial court judge dismissed all of the manslaughter charges, citing a Minnesota religious exemption statute. A Minnesota court of appeals upheld the lower court's decision to dismiss the charges and in September, 1990, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-2 to uphold the dismissal of the charges. All three courts based their rulings on the due process fair notice requirements of the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They determined that the Minnesota religious exemption law gave the parents the right to assume they could withhold medical care and, therefore, the parents were not given "fair notice" that their behavior was criminal.

Ian Burdick, age 15, died November 10, 1987, in Sherman Oaks, California, of diabetes without medical care. At his death Ian was 5'8" tall and weighed 87 pounds. A Christian Science nurse and practitioner had been retained to treat Ian's disease.

Robyn Twitchell, age two, died in April, 1986, in Boston, Massachusetts, of a bowel obstruction. A simple operation to remove the twisting of the bowel would have most likely saved Robyn's life. Robyn was seriously ill over a five day period; he was in severe pain, vomiting intermittently and he had serious difficulty eating and sleeping. The parents, David and Ginger Twitchell, contacted a church practitioner the first day of Robyn's illness. The practitioner treated the boy's serious medical illness only by prayer. Subsequently, Robyn's illness became "much worse": he was shaking and vomiting and then became unresponsive. Still the parents and the practitioner did not seek medical help, preferring instead to use prayer as the only treatment.

According to medical experts who testified at the inquest, common practice among parents in the community with a child manifesting Robyn's symptoms would have been to wait no longer than 48 hours before seeking medical attention. In July, 1990, the Twitchells were convicted of manslaughter.

Elizabeth Ashley King, age 12, died June 5, 1988, in Phoenix, Arizona, of bone cancer. She was out of school and sick at home from November 1987 to May 1988. Though school officials knew the Kings were Christian Scientists, they allowed the parents to set up a home study program for the girl. In May, alarmed neighbors (not the school officials) realized they had not seen Ashley for months and notified Child Protective Services. A court order was obtained to have Ashley examined at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

Doctors determined that Ashley had bone cancer that had progressed too far to be arrested with medical treatment. The tumor on her leg was over one yard in circumference; it had metastasized to her lungs. Her heart had enlarged from the strain of pumping extra blood to the tumor. Ashley told nurses and doctors: "I'm in so much pain...You don't know how I've suffered."

Given the terminal prognosis, the state agreed to have Ashley placed in a Phoenix Christian Science nursing home. This was done despite the protests of one of the doctors who examined Ashley: he said Ashley was experiencing one of the worst kinds of pain known to mankind. Ashley died 24 hours after being committed to the home. Nursing home records show 71 calls to the Christian Science "practitioner" for "treatment" (i.e., prayer) of Ashley's pain. Indeed, this is the only kind of treatment a Christian Science nursing home will provide for pain. The parents, John and Catherine King, pleaded no contest to the felony of reckless endangerment in their daughter's death.

Kimberly Sartore, age one, died in 1969 in Alaska of medically untreated meningitis. Kimberly's father was charged with and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. However, the conviction was overturned when the Alaskan legislature passed a religious exemption law, and the conviction was expunged from Mr. Sartore's record.

Matthew Swan, 16 months, died in 1977 in Detroit, Michigan, of h-flu meningitis. The parents had retained Christian Science practitioners to treat Matthew.

Lisa Sheridan, age five, died in 1967 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, after a three week battle with pneumonia without medical care. Lisa received Christian Science prayer treatment over the entire course of her illness. Lisa's mother was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Clayton Scott Zimmern, age nine, died in 1968 in Park Forest South, Illinois, of injuries sustained when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle near his home. The driver of the car immediately called the police, but by the time they arrived, Mr. Zimmern had removed his son to their house. Gregory Johns, Park Forest South Police Chief, reported that Mr. Zimmern, a Christian Scientist, told police that his son did not require medical attention. Mr. Zimmern repeated this when police called him later that evening. When Mr. Zimmern finally did call the police to his house, it was only to tell them that his son had died. Clayton's parents never brought their son to a hospital.

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The following additional cases were compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Michael Schram, age 12, from Mercer Island, Washington, died in 1979 from a ruptured appendix after several days of prayer and "spiritual healing." Michael received no medical attention because his mother is a Christian Scientist. Michael's father, Jack Schram, was unaware of the situation because his ex-wife, Betty, had custody of the child. Betty Schram and Juanita Caldwell, a Christian Science practitioner, prayed over Michael for several days before his death. For three days after his death, the two women continued to pray in an attempt to resurrect Michael's lifeless body. A funeral home contacted state officials about the suspicious nature of the child's death. The medical examiner referred the autopsy report to the prosecuting attorney and to Michael's father who is not a Christian Scientist, for possible legal action.

Ronald Rowan, age 11, from Tallmadge, Ohio, died in 1979 as a result of extreme dehydration and ultimately aspiration asphyxiation. The medical examiner concluded that Ronald had to have been seriously ill for at least a week; he must have been running a fever and vomiting several days before his death. He was too weak to expel vomitus from his mouth and was asphyxiated. Ronald did not receive medical care because his parents are members of the Christian Science Church.

Andrew Pinkham, age three, from Orinda, California, died from pneumonia after his parents refused to take him to a doctor because of their religious beliefs. Andrew's symptoms were described as six days of fever, loss of appetite, and in the last day, labored and rapid breathing. During these six days, Andrew's parents and a Christian Science practitioner prayed at his bedside.

Kris Ann Lewis, age 13, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, died of bone cancer in June of 1981. In June of 1980, her mother, a Christian Scientist, had taken her to the hospital suspecting that she may have a broken bone. When doctors made a preliminary diagnosis of bone cancer, her mother insisted that they were incorrect and left with her daughter.

Six weeks later the hospital learned that Kris was receiving treatment from a Christian Science practitioner. Mrs. Lewin refused any communication from the hospital on the advice of an attorney provided by the main Christian Science Church in Boston.

The hospital filed an abuse report with Protective Services who determined that the mother was within her rights because of Pennsylvania's religious exemption law. The coroner held an inquest and recommended that manslaughter charges be brought against Mrs. Lewin, but the District Attorney found that her right to choose spiritual healing was protected by a religious exemption clause in Pennsylvania's child abuse and neglect statutes. The Christian Science practitioner that treated Kris Ann testified in court that she did not report the case to state officials, as Pennsylvania law requires, because she did not believe the child was being neglected or abused.

Debra Ann Kupsch, age 9, from Wisconisn, contracted diphtheria at a Christian Science Camp in Colorado, where she was sick for one week. She came in contact with other unvaccinated children, and died shortly after her arrival home, only after her parents sought medical care as a final effort. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control had to track down and test the other children from the camp at a cost of nearly $20,000, yet no neglect report was filed by her Christian Science practitioner, as Colorado law required.

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The remaining cases were compiled by CHILD, Inc. and are presented here with its permission:

Faith Tabernacle

The Faith Tabernacle Congregational was founded in 1987 in Philadelphia during a religious revival. The Church doctrine claims that the Bible opposes "all medical and surgical practice whatever." Presently, the Church has about 18,000 members, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Justin Barnhart, age two, died September 1981, in Beaver Valley, Pennsyslvania of a Wilm's tumor which grew larger than a volleyball in the child's abdomen. The parents, William and Linda Barnhart, withheld medical care from their son because of their religious beliefs. With early medical intervention, this form of childhood cancer has a better than 90 percent cure rate. The parents were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 1982 by the county court. Although Pennsylvania had a religious exemption law in the code dealing with reporting of child abuse and neglect, the prosecution successfully argued that he law did not apply to criminal charges. In September 1988, the United States Supreme Court voted 9-0 against reviewing the state conviction of the parents.

Five children of the Winterbourne family of suburban Philadelphia died of pneumonia between 1971 and 1980 without receiving medical attention. Roger Winterbourne, the father, stated: "When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the way. If you only believe in it part way, it's not a true belief."

Baby Girl and Baby Boy Still, of Germantown, Pennsylvania, died in February 1989 after their mother, Deborah, gave birth to the twins without the aid of a doctor or midwife. After 8 hours the father noticed his 5 lb. Infant girl had stopped breathing, and he called a funeral home. The next day police took her 3 lb. Brother to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The twins were born 6 weeks prematurely, but a leading area neonatologist said that 95 percent of babies born six weeks prematurely who are treated in a hospital do survive.

Melinda Sue Friedenbeger, age 18 weeks, died of starvation and dehydration on April 25, 1991, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Parents John and Kathy Friedenbeger reported she had had a fever, vomiting and diarrhea for the last several days of her life. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

Clayton Nixon, age eight, also died in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on January 6, 1991, of dehydration and malnutrition after contracting ear and sinus infections which caused continuous vomiting. He was four feet tall at his death but weighed only 32 pounds. His parents, Dennis and Lorie Nixon, have also been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

In early 1991, six children died in the Philadelphia area of measles. Five of the children's parents belonged to the Faith Tabernacle and had religious objections to vaccinations. (The sixth child's parents belonges to the First Century Gospel Church which also objects to medical care.)

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End Time Ministries

End Time Ministries, led by Reverend Charles Meade, has been active in South Dakota, Montana, and the Midwest. Several hundred believers have migrated to Lake City, Florida. The sect lost five babies in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during home deliveries that were not attended by licensed health care providers. Illness is viewed by members as the work of Satan, a member's lack of faith, or an unconfessed sin. The sect continues to deliver babies without medical attention.

Michael David Boehmer, four days old, died March 15, 1990, in Lake City, Florida, of a pulmonary hemorrhage. The parents did not obtain medical attention for their son, stating that they believed doctors should be avoided. They relied on prayer to heal their baby. On March 14th, the parents placed cotton in his nose in an effort to stop the bleeding. The boy died the next day. The autopsy showed he had lost at least ¼ of his blood. The medical examiner stated that Michael had a 90 percent chance of survival with a Vitamin K shot, which is commonly given to newborns. (Vitamin K enhances the blood's clotting ability.)

Other End Time Ministries not prosecuted:

Libby Cooke, four days old, died December, 1978, in Brandon, South Dakota, without medical attention after a four day struggle with premature lungs.

Infant McDowell was born dead in January 1979 in Billings, Montana, after her mother had been in labor for three days. The 9 lb. Child was born dead in a bathtub. A coroner's inquest found that End Time sect members moved McDowell from her apartment to a member's home to keep concerned relatives from interfering during her labor. The prosecutor cited laws shielding religious practice as the reason for dropping the case.

Infant Ruzicka was born dead in February 1981 in Brandon, South Dakota. After the mother, Cathy Ruzicka, lay in labor for four days, she went into convulsions, and ended any chance at life for her 7 ½ lb. baby.

Sarah Handy, born prematurely, died in July 1981 in Valley Springs, South Dakota, of bacterial pneumonia. Even though she had turned blue and had severe breathing problems, her parents, Mike and Maxine Handy, continued to pray over her. The state's attorney said he was prevented from prosecuting by the South Dakota religious immunity law.

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Church of the First Born

This sect is primarily active in Colorado and Oklahoma.

Jason Lockhart, age nine, of Enid Oklahoma, died of a ruptured appendix due to parental religious beliefs. Parents, Dean and Patsy Lockhart, in December 1982, were acquitted of first degree manslaughter because of Oklahoma's religious exemption law. Responding to public outrage, the Oklahoma legislature modified the state's religious exemption law by adding a statement the "medical care shall be provided where permanent physical damage could result to a child."

Desiree Camren, age three, of Cushing, Oklahoma, died February 1987 after a week's illness due to lack of medical care. The medical examiner said that medical treatment could have saved the child's life. Dean and Sheila Camren, the parents, claimed their religious beliefs prevented them from seeking medical help for Desiree. Testimony at the trial indicated that the Camrens knew the child was dying but believed her death was punishment from God because the father had not been attending church. The parents were sentenced to prison in May 1989 for second degree manslaughter.

Angela Sweet, age seven, of Olathe, Colorado, died June 1990 of peritonitis, seven weeks after rupturing her appendix. The parents, David and Barbara Sweet, refused to get medical care for their daughter because of their allegiance to their church. They are charged with felony child abuse. Their trial is set for June 1992.

Travis Drake, age 14, of western Colorado, died in 1982, several days after his appendix ruptured.

Lukas Long, a newborn baby, of rural Cory, Colorado, died in August 1987. Lukas was born at 8:30 a.m.: the mother was attended by unlicensed midwives. At 11:30 a.m. the baby began having breathing problems, and the parents, David and Raya Long, called in the church elders to pray for a healing. The baby died between 4 and 6:30 p.m. "We believe in divine healing and trust in God," explained the baby's grandmother.

Saundra Arnold, age 13, died in the 1960's in California after being ill 18 days with an intestinal blockage. The mother, aware that Saundra was gravely ill, did not obtain medical assistance because of her religious convictions – relying instead on home remedies, prayer, and finally on a deathbed baptism.

Jordan Northrup, age four months, died January 1991 in Redding, California, of meningitis and pneumonia. His parents, Earl Joe and Catherine Northrup, attempted to heal their son through prayers alone during his six day illness. On September 19, 1991, they were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

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Faith Assembly

The church is active in Ohio and Indiana. According to the research of CHILD, Inc., there have been over 100 unnecessary deaths since 1973 caused by the teachings of the Faith assembly against medical care. The majority of these deaths have been of children or mothers in childbirth. Faith Assembly death rates from 1975-1982 were studied by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Indiana Department of Health. Death rates among Faith Assembly women in childbirth were 870 percent higher than among Indiana women in general; death rates among their infants were 270 percent higher than the statewide average.

Juliana Keys, six months, of Columbia City, Indiana, died of an untreated abdominal infection caused by a twisted bowel. The parents did not obtain medical care for the child due to their religious beliefs.

Joel Romine, 20 months, of Indiana, died in March 1989 of emphysema, a complication of pheumonia. The parents, Daniel and Diana Romine, refused to obtain medical care for their son; they told the coroner that they "do not believe in seeking medical treatment and instead prayed at home for the child's recovery."

John David Ricks, five months, of Kimmel, Indiana, died in April 1990 of untreated bacterial memingitis. The parents, Michael and Diana Ricks, as members of the Faith Assembly, never sought medical care for their son. The father had completed four years of medical school before dropping out to join the Faith Assembly. On April 3rd, John developed a fever, and on April 6th, the boy stopped breathing three times; the next day he died.

Sean Woodrun, six months, of Nobles, Indiana, died in April 1990 of untreated bronchial pneumonia, after being sick for several days. In June, Roberta and Robin Woodrun plead guilty to withholding medical care form their baby. They were subsequently sentenced for criminal recklessness and reckless homicide and received three and four years suspended sentences. They were also ordered to involve a doctor in the care and treatment of their four other children, including immunizations, examinations and medical or surgical care; to report any illnesses of their children within 12 hours; to complete a first aid course; to use a fever thermometer and baby scale; and to authorize monitoring of their children's health by probation officers and provision of emergency medical care for their school-aged children.

Allyson Bergmann, nine months, of South Bend, Indiana, died of untreated meningitis. The parents were prosecuted for this death in 1984.

Carla Northrup, a baby girl, died in 1983 of pneumonia.

Joel Winkelman, three weeks old, of Ohio, died of pneumonia without receiving medical treatment. The parents, David and Joy Winkelman, stated their belief: "that the best physician is Jesus."

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Other Sects

Wesley Parker, age 11, died in the early 1970's in Barston, California, of medically untreated diabetes. An itinerant preacher had declared the boy healed.

Infant McCourt was born dead in July 1987 on a South Carolina commune that rejects medical care. According to the coroner, the baby died due to lack of oxygen because of prolonged delivery. The county pathologist said the baby most likely would have lived if the mother had had prenatal care and medical attendance at delivery. The mother, Linda McCourt, was a member of the Faith Cathedral Fellowship.

Aaron Norman, age ten, died December 1987 because of medically untreated diabetes. Bob Norman, the father, was convicted of first degree manslaughter in Spokane, Washington. The Normans belonged to the No-Name Fellowship. Members of this group believe "sickness is a result of sin and a wicked lifestyle." Members distrust doctors.

Loren Willliamson, age five, died June 1989, of lymphocytic leukemia in Loranger, Louisiana. Annetta Williamson, the mother, belongs to the Church of God; she prayed for divine healing instead of obtaining medical care. The coroner stated Loren died of congestive heart failure resulting from untreated leukemia. "Leukemia is a cancer, but is can be treated with chemotherapy and blood transfusions. The lymphocytic leukemia is more treatable than other kinds of leukemia." Neighbors told investigators that Loren had been looking bad for several weeks and that red splotches, indicative of leukemia, had covered Loren's body for several weeks. The mother was booked for negligent homicide.

Five children, whose parents belonged to the Christ Miracle Healing Center in Arizona, died of curable ailments between 1979 and 1983. One of the children, Theiral Drewwho, age six, died of a strangulated hernia, which could have been corrected by routine surgery.

Micaiah Edwards, age 15 months, died July 1991, in Spanaway, Washington, of meningitis after his parents withheld medical care on religious grounds. Tracy Edwards, the chidl's father, was a lay minister and missionary with the Traveling Ministries Everyday Church. The death is currently being investigated.

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