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Freedom of Religion - Part 2

• Can the state prosecute a mother for manslaughter if her child dies of meningitis after being treated by prayer instead of medical therapy? That was the difficult question before the California Supreme Court in a recent decision. The victim was a four-year-old girl who fell ill with flu-like symptoms and a stiff neck. Consistent with the tenets of her religion, the child's mother chose to treat the illness with prayer rather than medical care. Members of the mother's church prayed with the child on two occasions. Nevertheless, the child lost weight, grew disoriented and irritable, and her breathing became heavy and irregular. She died of acute meningitis 17 days after her symptoms first appeared. The child's mother was charged with involuntary manslaughter, and she moved to dismiss the prosecution on the ground that her conduct was protected by law. Specifically, the mother argued ...

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  • May 1, 1989