Linda Martin, a child's rights activist who was born into the Followers of Christ religion in Boise, said she has probably watched three generations of children die needlessly because of Idaho's religious shield laws.
Idaho law allows families to cite religious reasons for medical decisions regarding their children without being charged with neglect, abuse or manslaughter.
Martin and Shaakirrah Sanders, an associate professor at the University of Idaho College of Law in Boise, spoke about faith healing Tuesday night to an audience at the 1912 Center in Moscow.
Martin told the audience stories of her family members who died from treatable conditions like pneumonia.
While Martin and Sanders spoke, a slideshow behind them displayed photos of children's headstones at Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Caldwell in Canyon County.
Martin said the county has the highest death rate due to faith healing in Idaho. She said there are about 613 graves at Peaceful Valley Cemetery and 210 of those are children's graves.
Martin said not all of the children who are buried at Peaceful Valley could have been saved, saying some could have died from car accidents or other similar causes, but there is a large percentage that she does not know how they died.
She said there is not an accurate way to track faith healing deaths in Idaho. Coroners do not have a uniform method to report those types of deaths, Martin said.
Martin said a Twin Falls girl died in 1915 from sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, and her parents were prosecuted for allowing her to die from the condition.
"I cannot find any more prosecutions of the faith deaths since 1915," Martin said.
Martin said she left her Meridian church when she was 16. She said she noticed hypocrisy within the church. Some parents would seek medical attention but would not provide it to their children.
"Parents are making decisions for these children to allow them to die, and then the parents themselves are not making that same decision for themselves when they become ill," Martin said.
Sanders said she wonders why there is not a safety valve for a child if parents don't want to seek medical intervention. She said there should be a procedural mechanism to allow a guardian or attorney to steer around parental control.
Sanders also said the law could be amended in a way to recognize that children have more authority as they age as minors, allowing children more of a say in their medical choices. She said the state should also meet its duty to investigate and report deaths, and that investigating deaths will not cause too much interference in the personal lives of the family and friends affected.
"The idea that we sort of potentially allow health issues that are in the public's interest to go unnoticed is a little bit concerning," Sanders said.
One member of the audience asked Sanders and Martin how the public can help change these laws.
Martin said people need to make contact with their legislators.
"We have to have a strong Republican legislator that's willing to stand up and say enough is enough," Martin said. "We have to protect these children. Until we have that, these kids are going to continue to die."
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to email@example.com.