Idaho faith healing exemption still unchanged. Canyon County counts 8 more deaths

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Linda Martin grew up with death. As a child, she would see friends at church one week and then never again, she said. When the community’s elders gathered at someone’s home, she assumed the worst: another loss.

Martin, who now lives in Oregon, was raised in Boise as a member of the Followers of Christ Church, a small religious group with congregations in parts of rural Idaho. For years, the church has been in the public spotlight over its controversial faith healing beliefs of using prayer or spiritual healing in place of medical care.

Martin said the practice was at the root of deaths she witnessed as a child: cousins who died days after being born, a nephew who “drowned in his own fluids” with pneumonia at 2 years old. Though she left the church when she was 16, at 68 years old she still tracks each child death connected to the church.

Coroner’s reports, death certificates and headstones at a small cemetery near Marsing show dozens of child deaths and stillbirths — some of them deemed preventable by medical experts — linked to the church and faith healing.

For decades, Idaho has allowed an exemption in its Child Protective Act and child injury and abandonment laws for faith healing, letting parents choose to withhold potentially lifesaving treatment without fear of legal repercussions. Since 2014, opponents of faith healing have lobbied the Idaho Legislature to change the law, but efforts have stalled amid concerns over parental rights and religious and medical freedom. Legislators last debated a change to faith healing exemptions in 2017 with a much-criticized bill that was voted down on the Senate floor.

Since then, more children have died. Coroner’s reports obtained through records requests by the Idaho Statesman showed eight child deaths, including stillbirths, associated with faith healing since the start of 2020 in Canyon County, where the Followers of Christ’s largest church group is located. A Statesman investigation published in February 2020 found 11 faith healing deaths in the same county during the previous five years.

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1 comment

  1. This is one of most shameful things happening in the United States. Children are dying directly due to medical neglect because their parents belong to a faith healing church like “Followers of Christ.”

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