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Monday, April 14, 2008

Acts of Faith

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Twenty years ago, when I was diagnosed in adulthood with so-called “juvenile” diabetes, it confirmed what a lot of my friends had long believed—that I was still a kid at heart. Fortunately, ever since Dr. Frederick Banting and a young graduate student named Charles Best discovered insulin in the early 1920s, a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes for me and millions of other adults and children is no longer a death sentence.

That is the tragedy of the death of 11 year-old Kara Neumann of Weston, Wis., whose parents apparently allowed her to lapse into a coma and did not seek medical attention until she had stopped breathing. The parents reportedly believed that their child would be healed by prayer alone. Religious beliefs deserve respect in our society. But so does the legal responsibility of parents to protect the health and safety of their children.

A death from undiagnosed diabetes, besides being totally unnecessary in the 21st century, is slow and excruciating to witness. Type 1 diabetes results when the pancreas does not produce the insulin needed to convert sugar in the blood into energy. Sugar building up in the blood damages blood vessels and can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, organ failure and amputations.

Meanwhile, the body has to get energy from somewhere, so it begins devouring itself. It first consumes body fat and then muscle and tissue. That creates a toxic buildup of acid in the blood known as diabetic ketoacidosis. That was ruled the cause of death for 11 year-old Kara.

Although the leader of a religious Web site contacted by the girl’s parents claimed the girl was sick for only a day or so, such extreme deterioration typically takes much longer. The Marathon County medical examiner said the girl “was found to be in an emaciated state” when police removed her from the home. Police had gone to the home after an out-of-state relative called them upon hearing that the parents were relying on prayer to heal the girl, instead of seeking medical help.

David Eells, the head of Unleavened Bread Ministries, wrote on his Web site, AmericasLastDays.com, that he prayed by telephone with Kara’s parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, the night before the police arrived and also as they followed an emergency vehicle to the hospital.

“The next thing I heard from them was that they were being investigated,” Eells wrote, “which is sad since authorities don’t investigate the people who put their trust in doctors whose family members die by the hundreds of thousands from medical mistakes every year.” Looking on the bright side, Eells wrote, “Jesus called dying ‘entering into life’ for those who know Him.” Nevertheless, he said he was praying that Kara would come back to life.

“A few of God’s people have temporarily stepped into that realm and did not want to come back, but had more work to do. We are sure Kara does not want to come back, but we have asked God to send her for her parents’ sake and as a testimony of His love for us.”

Helping Ourselves
I have known people with a strong belief in the power of prayer all my life. For the past two years, co-hosting a radio show with a large following in the African- American community, I have come to know many more. I have nothing but admiration for those whose faith is powerful enough to give them the strength to endure heartbreaking personal tragedies, such as the one my cohost experienced when her son was murdered in the streets.

But my own personal belief is that we shouldn’t expect God to do what we should be doing for ourselves. We can’t just pray for an end to violence in our community. We all need to be doing something about it. We need to intervene in the lives of young people to give them aspirations for the future long before they ever pick up a gun.

It’s irreligious to blame God for our own failures. Over the ages, religion has been used to justify hatred, bloodshed and other acts of inexcusable inhumanity. When we visit violence upon each other—as nations or as classes within a community—that’s not part of God’s plan for us. It’s something we are willfully doing to ourselves.

Our callousness toward each other already withholds medical care from far too many in our society based on race and income. For nearly a century, God, in whatever form anyone may choose to believe in a higher power, has granted us the knowledge to prevent our loved ones with diabetes from slowly wasting away.

It is not an act of faith for parents to withhold basic medical care from children who depend upon them for love and protection. It’s an act of negligence.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.