Travesty in Tennessee: Death by faith healing gets a misdemeanor
A travesty in Tennessee, as a neglectful mother and her lover/spiritual advisor get probation as punishment for allowing a teenager to die of cancer without medical treatment.
A decade-long court dispute over a child neglect case that spawned a legal battle over faith healing, ended Tuesday with two guilty convictions for the girls’ mother and friend — Jacqueline Crank and her spiritual leader Ariel Ben Sherman
WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee, reports:
Jacqueline Crank and her spiritual leader, Ariel Sherman, were sentenced to 11 months, 29 days of unsupervised probation. Crank’s daughter, Jessica, died of a rare form of cancer in 2002. Tuesday, the two were both found guilty of misdemeanor child neglect. Sherman and Crank say they will appeal the conviction.
Originally charged in 2002 with felony charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect, the pair found those charges dismissed and replaced with a misdemeanor.
Sherman, who lived with Crank and provided her “spiritual misguidance”, which reportedly included telling her that “faith” would heal her daughter, tried to buck the charges by claiming that he was not Jessica’s legal guardian and did not have authority to take her to the hospital for treatment.
The case began when Sherman moved his Universal Life Church flock to a six-bedroom house in Loudon County. There, he lived with Crank, her two children, Jessica and Israel, and a half-dozen other parishioners. Sherman held himself out as the “spiritual father” of Crank’s children and was reportedly Crank’s lover.
When Jessica developed a tumor on her shoulder, Sherman advised Crank to rely on prayer. Although she took Jessica to a local clinic at one point, the mother ultimately decided to rely on faith. Authorities intervened but Jessica died anyway.
The court was not swayed by Sherman’s attempt to dodge his responsibility in the case. At no point did Sherman tell Crank that Jessica needed medical treatment, though he was her “spiritual advisor” and certainly in a position to insist, with great influence, that treatment was necessary. He, like Crank, was found guilty on the misdemeanor charges.
This will serve as a test case at the Tennessee Supreme Court, where an existing law granting parents the right to refuse medical care for their children in favor of chanting, anointing with oil, burning sage, or sacrificing parakeets will be challenged.
State law allows a parent to choose faith over medicine provided that parent is heeding the doctrine of a “recognized church or denomination.” But the law is silent on what constitutes a “recognized” religion. Isaacs argued Tuesday Crank’s belief in the power of prayer is rooted in “genuine” faith.
Sherman’s case turns on how far a duty of care for a child extends. Can a boyfriend be held liable? A baby sitter? A pastor? Bosch noted at Tuesday’s hearing that only a parent or legal guardian is allowed under the law to authorize medical treatment for a child.
Tennessee’s ridiculous law needs to be repealed. Christian Science is a recognized denomination, and eschews medical treatment in favor of prayer. Scientology is a recognized religion, and denies psychological counseling in favor of “e-meter auditing”.
There is no evidence whatsoever that prayer, magic, or wishful thinking of any sort will heal a disease. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.
Back in 2006, the pro-religion Templeton Foundation released the results of its study of 1,800 heart bypass patients.
Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School and other scientists tested the effect of having three Christian groups pray for particular patients, starting the night before surgery and continuing for two weeks. The volunteers prayed for “a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications” for specific patients, for whom they were given the first name and first initial of the last name.
The patients, meanwhile, were split into three groups of about 600 apiece: those who knew they were being prayed for, those who were prayed for but only knew it was a possibility, and those who weren’t prayed for but were told it was a possibility.
The study looked for any complications within 30 days of the surgery. Results showed no effect of prayer on complication-free recovery. But 59 percent of the patients who knew they were being prayed for developed a complication, versus 52 percent of those who were told it was just a possibility.
In summary, being prayed for or not had no effect on the patients’ outcomes. Knowing that they were being prayed for increased the likelihood of complications. Why? Perhaps the added stress of assuming they should heal faster? Or could it be . . . Satan?
Or maybe this:
Dr. Harold G. Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at the Duke University Medical Center, who didn’t take part in the study, said the results didn’t surprise him.
“There are no scientific grounds to expect a result and there are no real theological grounds to expect a result either,” he said. “There is no god in either the Christian, Jewish or Moslem scriptures that can be constrained to the point that they can be predicted.”
Interesting. So Koenig is saying that there is no way to predict whether the Abrahamic god will answer prayers, and no theological basis for such belief.
Other than words reportedly from Jesus, in Matthew 21:22:
And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
. . . and Mark 11:23:
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
. . . and John 16:23:
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
So, if there’s no theological basis for belief that their god answers prayers (ahem), I guess praying is almost like random chance, isn’t it?
Random chance is no basis for the medical treatment of a sick child, whose parents have the legal right and responsibility to ensure her welfare.
If a competent adult wishes to make decisions for herself on the basis of faith in one of any number of all-powerful deities, that’s fine. Let her. (Granted, her willingness to make such a gamble should call her competence into question . . .)
But an adult should in no case be authorized under law to gamble her child’s welfare on the sacrifice of parakeets, or chanting of poems, or lighting of candles. Oregon has figured that out; when will Tennessee?