Idaho Republican sees no reason to require faith-healing parents to seek medical treatment for dying kids
State Sen. Lee Heider (Facebook)

An Idaho Republican is refusing to back a proposal that would require religious parents to seek medical care for their dying children -- but he won't promise any changes to a state law protecting faith healers.

Parents are allowed under state law to substitute prayer as a form of medical treatment and carves out a religious exemption to manslaughter, capital murder and negligent homicide charges if those prayers go unanswered and their child dies.

Critics of the law said some Idaho children are needlessly dying from treatable ailments such as diabetes, pneumonia and food poisoning-related dehydration, reported KOIN-TV.

"These are not things children die of in our time," said Linda Martin, who has been pushing for changes to the law. "This is what children died of back in the 1800s -- not in the 2000."

Martin grew up in the Pentecostal group known as the Followers of Christ, which punishes members who seek medical care by shunning them from their church.

The church forbids the use of medicines such as antibiotics, but state law protects parents from charges if they supplement their prayers with just the slightest gesture toward health treatment -- such as giving a sick child orange juice.

A measure that would have limited the religious exemption was defeated last year, following a string of preventable child deaths, because Republican lawmakers said it would have violated the sect's religious freedom.

“Children do die,” said state Rep. Christy Perry (R-Nampa) last year. “I’m not trying to sound callous, but (reformers) want to act as if death is an anomaly. But it’s not — it’s a way of life.”

The state Attorney General's Office handed down a proposal that would limit the religious exemption from prosecution under statute 18-5101 if "the child is harmed or sickened or dies."

The amendment is backed by the child fatality review subcommittee, which is made up of law enforcement and medical professionals, that examines deaths blamed on natural causes.

The Republican chairman of the state Senate's Health and Welfare Committee said he saw no reason to amend the law or even call for a hearing.

"I believe the law is pretty straightforward," said state Sen. Lee Heider, of Twin Falls. "We would encourage them to seek medical care, but we don't force people to seek medical care -- and whether it's because they can't afford it or, in this case, because of their heartfelt religious belief, we simply don't do that."

Heider said he would not sponsor the measure, but he would allow a hearing if another lawmaker asked.

"If someone approaches me wanting to carry that legislation then, yes, I'll hold a hearing," the GOP lawmaker said. "I can't guarantee the outcome of the hearing. I can't tell you what the other members of my committee would choose to do with that legislation, but if someone chooses to do that, I would be the first to stand up and give them the right to bring that legislation forward."

Martin, however, found little appetite among lawmakers for changing the law.

"I've spoken to several legislators, and there's been no plan on presenting a bill," Martin said.

Watch this video report posted online by KOIN-TV: