Letting them die: parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ

Apr 19, 2016

Photo credit: Jason Wilson

By Jason Wilson

Mariah Walton’s voice is quiet – her lungs have been wrecked by her illness, and her respirator doesn’t help. But her tone is resolute.

“Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted.”

Why?

“They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.”

Mariah is 20 but she’s frail and permanently disabled. She has pulmonary hypertension and when she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. At times, she has had screws in her bones to anchor her breathing device. She may soon have no option for a cure except a heart and lung transplant – an extremely risky procedure.

All this could have been prevented in her infancy by closing a small congenital hole in her heart. It could even have been successfully treated in later years, before irreversible damage was done. But Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.

As she grew sicker and sicker, Mariah’s parents would pray over her and use alternative medicine. Until she finally left home two years ago, she did not have a social security number or a birth certificate.

Had they been in neighboring Oregon, her parents could have been booked for medical neglect. In Mariah’s case, as in scores of others of instances of preventible death among children in Idaho since the 1970s, laws exempt dogmatic faith healers from prosecution, and she and her sister recently took part in a panel discussion with lawmakers at the state capitol about the issue. Idaho is one of only six states that offer a faith-based shield for felony crimes such as manslaughter.

Some of those enjoying legal protection are fringe Mormon families like Mariah’s, many of whom live in the state’s north. But a large number of children have died in southern Idaho, near Boise, in families belonging to a reclusive, Pentecostal faith-healing sect called the Followers of Christ.

In Canyon County, just west of the capital, the sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a taskforce set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.

The shield laws that prevent prosecutions in Idaho are an artifact of the Nixon administration. High-profile child abuse cases in the 1960s led pediatricians and activists to push for laws that combatted it. In order to help states fund such programs, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Capta), which Richard Nixon signed in 1974.

But there was a fateful catch due to the influence of Nixon advisers John Erlichman and J R Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists.

Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explains how the men – later jailed for their role in the Watergate scandal – were themselves members of a faith-healing sect, and acted to prevent their co-religionists being charged with crimes of neglect.

“Because Erlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law,” he said.

They also ensure that states had to pass similar exemptions in order to access Capta funds. The federal requirement was later relaxed, but the resultant state laws have had to be painstakingly repealed one by one.


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29 comments on “Letting them die: parents refuse medical help for children in the name of Christ

  • @OP – The shield laws that prevent prosecutions in Idaho are an artifact of the Nixon administration. High-profile child abuse cases in the 1960s led pediatricians and activists to push for laws that combatted it. In order to help states fund such programs, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Capta), which Richard Nixon signed in 1974.

    But there was a fateful catch due to the influence of Nixon advisers John Erlichman and J R Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists.

    Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explains how the men – later jailed for their role in the Watergate scandal – were themselves members of a faith-healing sect, and acted to prevent their co-religionists being charged with crimes of neglect.

    Yep! The deluded tribalists foolishly entrusted with political power, playing of the “get out of civilised laws free”, religion card!

    Voters beware, and look into the backgrounds and affiliations of those seeking election!

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  • Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.

    There needs to be either civil or preferable criminal sanction for the above action. If you did this to a stranger, the charge would range from assault through to manslaughter or murder if the person died. Why should an exemption apply to a child where the harm is inflicted by the parent. For 2000 years, religion has been inflicting injury with a ‘Get Out of Jail Free” card. Enough. To harm a person either by intent, or through willful blindness, both constitute a current criminal offences. Religion is not a defence or mitigation.

    Nail’em up I say. Nail’em up.

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  • What I find most disturbing, is that the people who push for such religious exemption laws obviously know their religion does not protect children. If it did, the laws would not be needed, for it would be obvious that their children stand a much higher chance of survival than the children of people who prefer to trust medicine instead of magic, and their religion would likely know spectacular growth.

    That seems to indicate that (some of) the religious don’t care one bit about giving their children the best chances in life, and possibly that at least some of them are quite happy to get rid of their unaborted children by letting them die through healthcare denial.

    Morally speaking, these laws are essentially about protecting particularly cruel forms of premeditated murder.

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  • For those members who may not be aware of it, Pinterest has a fascinating selection of quotes on atheism from people down the ages. I’m collecting them to post from time to time on my Facebook page….hopefully to the annoyance of those who like to constantly sneak in a few words from the “book”!

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  • Another form of child abuse is psychological in nature. This form of abuse is the most insidious and the most widespread. For example, many children are subjected to sexual abuse by religious parents.

    The usual accepted form of sexual abuse as seen by many people is the idea of a pot bellied, bald headed 50 year old uncle or any other older male fondling an 8 year old girl. That of course is a clear example of child abuse and is usually a tragedy for the child. But that kind of abuse is overt and obvious.

    But we overlook the overly strict religiously “devout” parents who want to protect their young girl from the “evils” of sex. The fact that sex to them is evil comes from their religious leaders. The original source of this delusion comes from Augustine of Hippo (circa 400 AD). This religious delusion is eagerly passed on to young girls partly to prevent them from an unwanted pregnancy but primarily to prevent the girl from experiencing any of that “evil” pleasure. As a consequence, sexual dysfunction is widespread among women. Sexual dysfunction includes lack of desire or sexual arousal, inability to reach orgasms and sex pain disorders. Because of this instilled guilt about any sexual desires for men, many women turn to masturbation and can do that alone without surveillance by their parents or some judgmental peer group.

    Men are less likely to have sexual dysfunctions, and when it occurs it causes problems in attempting normal healthy relationships between men and women. Many marriages fail due to women having dysfunctions and then the blame for such failed marriages fall on the men. Women in a marriage who refuse sex are being very godly and her husband who desires sex is suffering from that evil satanic concupiscence.

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  • I lived in Salt Lake City, UT for 20 years. I went to the University of Utah (a secular institution) for my undergraduate and graduate degrees in genetics and medicine. I have been a basic non-believer in both gods or religions. I don’t even call myself an atheist as that implies I belong to a cult of some sort. I just don’t pay attention to any of this magical mystery tour UNTIL it deleteriously affects my fellow human beings.
    Many of my friends and colleagues are Mormon, LDS. There is NOTHING in this religion that relies on faith healing. Their hospitals (Intermountain Health Care) were seen as a model health care system when this administration was setting up the Affordable Health Care Act, similar to the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. These are top physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners. Modern health care-state of the art. We were the first to work with artificial hearts, heart valve replacements, left ventricular assist devices, transplant programs.
    Calling these folks in Idaho and Oregon “fundamentalist Mormons or fringe Mormons” is WRONG.”

    I know it seems strange to defend a church, but this church runs more on a modern business model than a faith-based model.

    These fools in Idaho can call themselves anything they want–but fundamentalist Mormons? It makes ALL Mormons look bad. There are many Mormons leaving the church as it continues to oppose same sex marriage. A LOT of Mormons resigned from the church–they actually wrote letters of resignation to the authorities of the Church–when the church stated that children of same sex couples were forbidden to be baptized until they were 18 y/o. The exodus of folks was amazing.

    Mormons are NOT Christian Scientists, anti-vaxxers, or anything that goes against modern medicine.

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  • There have been actual studies published in peer review medical journals looking at whether prayer helps hospitalized patients—reduced complications, shorter stay, number of re-hospitalizations.

    1) There was NO difference in patients’ healing etc between groups that had church groups praying for them and those that didn’t. *Random” grouping.”

    2) HOWEVER when the patients KNEW that a religious group was praying for them, they had WORSE outcomes. On follow-up the main reason that pts did more poorly was that they thought “I must be a LOT sicker than I realized if people are praying for me!” We do know that having a positive outlook contributes to healing as the patient participates in following treatment protocols better and works harder in physical therapy and occupational therapy to get better. Some patients “gave up trying” when they found out a group was praying for them.

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  • @Bart B. van Bockstael
    “What I find most disturbing, is that the people who push for such religious exemption laws obviously know their religion does not protect children. If it did, the laws would not be needed, for it would be obvious that their children stand a much higher chance of survival than the children of people who prefer to trust medicine instead of magic,…”

    Your basic premise that “obviously know (that) their religion does not protect..” is unfounded and just plain wrong. There is NOTHING obvious or logical in these folks where they would think that medicine would help their child! When you grow up believing that medicine is wrong, wrong, wrong, there is no one to offer a balanced approach, no one to show them that modern medicine IS better!

    Right now there is an intelligent discussion on whether treating DCIS (breast cancer–stage 0-of abnormally growing cells INSIDE milk ducts that have NOT migrated to the lymph nodes or other areas of the body) with bilateral mastectomies (removal of ALL breast tissue), radiation, and follow-up chemotherapy is even necessary. Good research such as at the University of San Francisco Medical Centers states that NO intervention is necessary. None! Just follow-up with MRI mammograms every 6 months to a year to look for any abnormal cells have traveled OUTSIDE the milk ducts. I chose the latter approach of “wait and see.” My doctor now refuses to see me at all because I didn’t follow HIS treatment plan. I found another. I realize that going against protocol made me a pariah…but I’m doing well WITHOUT the slash/burn/poison of “treatment.”

    But where I differ from these faith healers is that I am basing my decision NOT to have surgery etc based on sound research from many top notch medical research centers.

    I have tried to work with faith based healers and you just cannot reason or use logic. They REALLY don’t believe that modern medicine is good in any way. and when I practiced in Utah, I had the law on my side, called in Child Protective Services and had the child removed. I did NOT attack their belief system…I just pointed out studies that SHOWED their child would do better with antibiotics etc.

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  • @cbrown
    “The usual accepted form of sexual abuse as seen by many people is the idea of a pot bellied, bald headed 50 year old uncle or any other older male fondling an 8 year old girl. That of course is a clear example of child abuse and is usually a tragedy for the child. But that kind of abuse is overt and obvious.”

    Could you please cite a reliable source for such outrageous criticism? Is this a specific case noted in medical literature or just something you made up out of whole cloth?

    Can we commenters stick to facts as opposed to just “making things up?” We aren’t convincing folks of reasonable approaches when we say that such “child abuse is overt and obvious.”

    Thank you.

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  • Helen,
    Between the dark forces of religion (virgin/whore) puritanical coercion of women, and Freudian sexist ignorance (a mature women has a a vaginal orgasm. Immature women have clitoral ones etc.) it’s a wonder that female orgasms and sexual desire didn’t go extinct a century ago.

    The combination of both of those sources have resulted in the internalization of: Good women don’t want sex, don’t like sex, but submit to their husbands as part of their wifely duties.

    Will there be statistical data on how many women have had their minds warped over this sick idea? No there is not. It went on for centuries. Ever heard of Catholic guilt? And don’t touch yourself below the belt. Jesus is always watching you. Keep your hands above the covers all night.

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  • Helen #7
    Apr 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    I have been a basic non-believer in both gods or religions. I don’t even call myself an atheist as that implies I belong to a cult of some sort.

    It may be perceived as such in some parts of the world where hate preachers have filled congregations with nonsense, but disbelief in (their pet) god makes people members of a cult?? Really????
    Non-stamp-collecting could equally irrationally be called “a cult”, if stamp collecting was a fundamentalist religion!

    This is the sort of ignorant drivel we should be actively debunking!

    It is simply the psychological projection of ignorant cultists, who direct abuse at critics, pretending critics are a rival cult, because they themselves are too incompetent, deluded, and bigoted, to accept reasoned criticism!
    It is derived from the “us and them”, tribalistic mentality!

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  • Helen, #7

    but fundamentalist Mormons? It makes ALL Mormons look bad.

    No, it doesn’t. Every religion I can think of right now has its fundamentalist loons.

    Def:
    noun

    an adherent of fundamentalism, a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts.

    The more general case is the religious moderates who as I see it, are mostly annoyed or even terrified by the fundamentalists amongst them. The fundamentalists make plenty of trouble and make everyone’s lives a living hell. Why wouldn’t the Mormons have their fair share of these damn bothersome sorts? This takes nothing away from their excellent hospitals (taking your word for that) and the fact that some Mormons are bailing out of their tiresome religion. (excellent!). It’s important to distinguish between moderates and fundamentalists in all religions because moderates need encouragement to reign in their fundamentalist counterparts before they reek havok on all of us. Too many examples to write here!

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  • Tragic. Pity the parents are not the ones personally facing the consequences of their primitive beliefs and losing their own lives instead of those of their children. At least then the gene pool might improve!

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  • Helen said:
    Your basic premise that “obviously know (that) their religion does not protect..” is unfounded and just plain wrong.
    If I’m wrong, I have learned something, but nothing of what you said explains why religionists want to be protected against legal trouble caused by the consequences of refusing medical treatment for their offspring. Why would they want to be protected if what they are doing is the best anyway?

    Saying I am wrong is just not enough. I may well be, but just making that claim is insufficient. Some plausible explanation is required, as well as some fairly decent evidence.

    Once again, their religion would soar if it became known what a wonderful healthcare system it is. Why are outsiders not flocking to their wonderful religion? Perhaps because it isn’t so wonderful after all?

    I repeat my question: why do religionists who refuse treatment for their children want to be protected against the law, if their religion/god(s) is/are so wonderful?

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  • Alan4discussion said:
    disbelief in (their pet) god makes people members of a cult??
    I am as staunch an atheist as they come, but I agree with this statement. Atheism is, for me, the non-belief or unbelief in god(s), not the disbelief. Disbelief is, to me, the belief god(s) does/do not exist, and that makes no sense to me.

    I do not believe thylacines do not exist, I merely do not believe they do exist, even though there is far more evidence of them than there ever was for any god. All that is needed for me to change this opinion, is strong evidence that they do exist. I see no reasons to treat the existence of god(s) any differently.

    I think it is also fair to add that Helen has some thinking to do. She is far more influenced by religion than she seems to want to claim. If she had looked a bit deeper into the matter, she would know that the definition of atheism she seems to be using, is a religious one. In other words, she sounds like William Lane Craig, not like a non-believer.

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  • This argument about Atheism being a “cult” ?? – Problematic pigeon-holing yet-again.
    I am merely “Atheistic” in reference to the unproven god/gods hypothesis – obviously I am also a-Pixieist and a-Dragonst when it comes to those loons who insist that these truly exist. Surely this is a simple enough argument that even Helen can understand it? Non?

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  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele #16
    Apr 21, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Alan4discussion said: – disbelief in (their pet) god makes people members of a cult??

    I am as staunch an atheist as they come, but I agree with this statement. Atheism is, for me, the non-belief or unbelief in god(s), not the disbelief. Disbelief is, to me, the belief god(s) does/do not exist, and that makes no sense to me.

    This comes back to “Is non-stamp-collecting a cult and is OFF a TV channel?” As far as I know, there is no atheist consensus about any particular god or religion, as one would expect in the dogmas of a cult! – How could there be when there is no consensus among theists -even within religions, about their claims?

    I do not believe thylacines do not exist, I merely do not believe they do exist, even though there is far more evidence of them than there ever was for any god. All that is needed for me to change this opinion, is strong evidence that they do exist.

    Same here! – But probabilities , and other credible explanations for behaviours come into this!

    I see no reasons to treat the existence of god(s) any differently.

    Neither do I.
    However there are vast numbers of conflicting claims from believers about their gods, as well as substantial evidence that the clams are, false, deluded, based on faked documents, promoting false relics for profit, and other charlatan or politically manipulative claims.
    I certainly reject assumptions or assertions that “default gods” which require no supporting evidence exist !

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_deities

    In the absence of evidence, scepticism is the default, not credulity.

    I often ask those claiming to be agnostic (as distinct from scientists open to remote possibilities of new evidence) which of the numerous conflicting accounts are they agnostic about?
    A person can’t be agnostic about all of a massive list of conflicting claims, unless they are TOTALLY ignorant or irrational!
    Almost invariably, they seem “agnostic” about one familiar god, and casually dismiss all the rest!

    In my opinion, it is only a matter of time and research, before all current gods are recognised as god-delusions in the programmed indoctrination in believers’ brains.

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  • Alan4discussion said:
    I certainly reject assumptions or assertions that “default gods” which require no supporting evidence exist !
    Good point. The thylacine is my favourite example, because it is both a fascinating animal that speaks to the imagination and one that went extinct very recently and for which we still do have strong evidence of its existence. Yet, the evidence just isn’t strong enough to assert that it still exists or to assume it still does.
    The same is true, I think, for any and all gods, with Kim Il Sung being a possible exception since we do have ample evidence of his existence, but no evidence at all of his magical powers. So, I see Kim Il Sung as a fence-sitting deity.
    On the other hand, I am most certainly a disbeliever of William Lane Craig’s Jesus. That character cannot possibly exist/have existed. If, as WLC is required by contract to assert, the Bible contains no errors of any kind, he has to explain – for starters – how this nasty character came into being. To the best of my knowledge, he – nor any of his brothers in crime – have ever been able to do that in a way that reconciles the Bible with itself. That does not prove, I think, Jesus has never existed, but it does prove, I think, the Jesus of the Bible has never existed. In that sense, I am prepared to disbelieve WLC’s god(s) in a way I am not prepared to disbelieve Kim Il Sung.

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  • Bart B. Van Bockstaele #19
    Apr 21, 2016 at 10:59 am

    On the other hand, I am most certainly a disbeliever of William Lane Craig’s Jesus. That character cannot possibly exist/have existed. If, as WLC is required by contract to assert, the Bible contains no errors of any kind, he has to explain – for starters – how this nasty character came into being.

    I think a bit of creative writing by Saul of Tarsus and editing by Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, could go some way to explain it!

    Xtians are also flummoxed when they are asked to explain how this goddess disappeared from modern texts!

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Asherah
    .Asherah is a Semitic Mother Goddess, wife and consort of the Ugaritic El. Many modern scholars of ancient Israelite mythology suggest, in part based on Jeremiah’s claim that she is the Queen of Heaven, she was the wife or consort to the warrior god/sky god, Yahweh. Assuming this is true, this makes her the victim of a horrible editing job by later monotheists and chauvinists.

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  • To Helen #7:

    I don’t even call myself an atheist as that implies I belong to a
    cult of some sort.

    I call myself an atheist simply because there is NO evidence using or senses or extension of our senses that any such entity as a “god” or any other supernatural form exists anywhere in the observable universe. I also do not accept the existence of Santa Clause, Tooth Fairies, demons, or ghosts for the same reason. Thinking of myself as an atheist I do not feel as a part of any “cult.”

    Being in a cult implies a “belief” in something needing no evidence. However I think that being an atheist is the non acceptance of a supernatural power due to lack of evidence, not a “belief.”

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  • There should be a distinction between the term “belief” and the term “acceptance.” Belief to me seems to imply that there is the idea that something exists is absolutely correct based on faith alone, no evidence needed. Acceptance on the other hand seems to imply that some phenomenon is correct based on evidence, that is repeated observations in the natural universe.

    As it stands now, “belief” and “acceptance” apparently are synonyms, there being considerable confusions when people use the terms.

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  • I dislike the word “belief” in almost all circumstances. It implies making a choice, perhaps just a guess, for things which there is insufficient evidence to actually decide with certainty. If I ask a theist how many wheels a normal car has, their own perhaps, I would expect the answer “four”. If I then ask “do you just believe that or do you actually know it to be true?” this would seem to illustrate the difference between knowledge and belief.

    I try not to answer any questions that start “do you believe in…” There are simply some things for which the evidence is overwhelming, some for which there is no evidence at all and then of course a whole bunch in the middle. I try to keep an open mind on the latter and align with the evidence or lack of it on the first two.

    It is mildly irksome to me that there has to be a specific word for not believing in gods simply because at one time most people did believe in them when we find no need for specific words for not believing in unicorns, fairies, bigfoot and the like. All atheism means to me is that there’s a particular word for realising that there is zero evidence for the existence of something when no such word exists for the lack of evidence for the existence of a whole host of other things. I suppose I’m also an athunicornist, an afairieist and an abigfootist but very few people seem to be bothered about my views on those.

    It also puzzles me why theists get so irked about the tag “atheist” when in fact the vast majority of them are also atheists about every god other than the one(s) they just happened to have been indoctrinated about when they were kids. Google seems to think there are about 4000 gods that someone somewhere believes in or once did. I guess then the only difference between me and a muslim or a christian is I’m atheist as regards all 4000 and they are atheist about only 3999 of them.

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  • These horrors will continue to happen while society allows children to be parental property.

    Until a proper child’s charter is implemented recognising in law the rightful expectations of the child and the obligations of the parent, versions of this will continue to happen. We need a zeitgeist change in our society, that acknowledges that children are not had for their own benefit but to please the parent. They have no say in the matter. This simple fact of parental self-serving behaviour places all obligations on the parent from the outset, with the child growing only slowly into the obligations that all adults must assume.

    A proposed charter from Save the Children in 2004 promises that children will:

    get the help they need when they need it

    be seen by a professional to make sure that they are not put at more risk

    be listened to seriously

    be able to discuss issues in private

    be involved in the decisions made about their lives

    have a named person to help.



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  • LaurieB #11:

    it’s a wonder that female orgasms and sexual desire didn’t go extinct
    a century ago.

    It seems clear to me that sexual desire is a result of the interaction of a genetically inherited behavioral pattern and environmental influences. Since sex drive is inherited it will never go extinct by the discarded “theory” of the Lamark’s “use and disuse” (Inheritance of acquired characteristics) despite how rabid some religious leaders may be in their attempt to crush the oh so evil “lust.”

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  • Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in
    northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to
    doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and
    the power of prayer.

    There is an example of the failure to “QUESTION AUTHORITY!”

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  • phil rimmer #25
    Apr 22, 2016 at 5:46 am

    These horrors will continue to happen while society allows children to be parental property.

    That is a key issue! – Especially when medical innovations like this one open up opportunities to avoid long term disabling conditions.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-36113773

    A complete picture of the areas that the immune system attacks to cause type 1 diabetes has finally been revealed by scientists.

    The study, published in the journal Diabetes, discovered the fifth and final critical target at which the immune system errantly takes aim.

    The team at the University of Lincoln say the findings could help develop new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

    Diabetes UK said the findings were “impressive”.

    In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the beta cells that make insulin – the hormone needed to keep blood sugar levels under control.

    Studies looking at the unique antibodies made by patients with type 1 showed there were five key targets that the immune system attacked.

    But working out exactly what they were has been like identifying someone from their silhouette.

    Studies long ago discovered some of the targets, but the final one has proved elusive for two decades.

    Dr Michael Christie, who led the research at the University of Lincoln, told the BBC: “With this new discovery, we have now finished identifying what the immune system is targeting – we have the complete picture.”

    The targets are:

    Insulin
    Glutamate decarboxylase
    IA-2
    Zinc transporter-8
    And the final piece of the puzzle, tetraspanin-7

    The more technically named ones are largely involved in secreting or storing the hormone insulin.

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