I have followed on and off the case of Dale and Leilani Newman who killed their daughter Kara. They did this by refusing to allow treatment for her diabetes. Kara was eleven years old. Her parents are Christians, who believe that the only treatment for illness is prayer. They and their friends prayed as she lay on the floor, and watched her die.
These killers were convicted, and have now been sentenced. They must each spend one month in jail every year for the next six years, but not at the same time. Before I comment on the sentences, let’s think about what they did. It is beyond credibility that they were so ignorant as to be unaware that children only avoid death from diabetes by the use of proper medication. They must have known that millions of diabetic children are successfully treated that way, and do not die prematurely. That is not to say that there are no risks, even when treatment is given, but the risks are massively reduced compared with no treatment, which is usually a death sentence.
The conviction of this couple indicates that the court agreed with my argument that they could not have been ignorant. What alternative explanation exists? The court did not find that they were mentally ill. So we are left with the scenario of two people of sound mind and adequate education, knowingly taking action that killed their daughter. Kara was not starved and beaten to death in the manner of Victoria Climbié or Baby P. But she still suffered terribly and died. The praying was just as bad as the starving and beating. Those responsible for the fates of Victoria and Peter (as we now know his name to be) were punished with the full force of the law, and rightly so. Kara’s parents however have been required to take what amounts to an annual vacation. Yet again religion is handled with kid gloves.
The judge said the Newmans were “very good people, raising their family, who made a bad decision, a reckless decision”. Their lawyer said “My clients just happen to have a belief that is very outside of our social norm.”
No, no, no. These people are killers. They would almost certainly do it again, to their other three children. If they could, they would probably do it to other people’s children. They are a danger to society. I think the case raises questions as to what we mean by ‘of sound mind’. Mental illness is conventionally divided into the neuroses, where patients are aware that they are ill, and the psychoses, whose victims have no insight into their condition. On that basis, the Newmans are psychotic, in that they display lethally aberrant behaviour but insist that they are right. They purport to communicate with a fictional being. I am not sure whether this takes the form of hearing voices, but if so that is a cardinal sign of psychosis. Yet I would put money on my claim that they would most likely pass all the standard tests of psychosis and be declared perfectly sane.
So I really don’t know what to make of the Newmans. Perhaps there has been insufficient research into the deleterious effects of religious doctrine on the mental state of its adherents. But I am sure of one thing. They are not good people, if one judges them by the outcome. Richard Dawkins famously said:
Normally good people do good things, and bad people do bad things, but to get good people to do bad things, you need religion.
There can be no better example than the Newmans. They might have been good once, but religion has made them bad. Any other parents who kill their children will immediately have their other children taken away and put into care. Indeed they can be taken away for far less than that. Yet here they get a fatherly pat on the back from the judge, and a lecture on what God really wants them to do. I have a challenge for the judge. This presumably is the loving god who killed 200,000 people in the 2005 tsunami, and more recently killed at least another thousand in an earthquake and another tsunami. Explain that if you can.
Finally, I realise that the Newmans are Americans, which some might say (ungenerously) explains all. Although religious madness is more common in the USA than in the UK, we Brits still operate on the basis that faith must be respected, whatever its flavour. For me the worm turned a long time ago. There is nothing admirable about believing the unbelievable, and look where it can take us when we do.