Idaho’s law shielding parents who practice faith healing from prosecution if their kids get sick or die is getting national attention, driven largely by the story of a young woman who grew up in Declo.
The British newspaper the Guardian wrote a story on the issue that ran a week ago, leading with Mariah Walton, whose parents followed an unconventional interpretation of Mormonism and who didn’t seek medical treatment for a hole in her heart. Walton had health problems throughout her childhood and, after she collapsed at home at age 18, finally went to a doctor and found she had pulmonary hypertension. She is very ill and on oxygen now, and needs a heart and lung transplant.
The story has been getting national and international attention ever since, with most outlets featuring the Waltons heavily in their coverage. Here’s an article from the New York Daily News, for example. On Tuesday Walton and her sister Emily, a College of Western Idaho trustee and lobbyist who has been telling her family’s story publicly and urging that the law be changed, were on both “Today“ and “Good Morning America,” the morning shows on NBC and ABC, respectively.
The Today Show also ran a clip from its interview with Sen. Lee Heider, the Twin Falls Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and who opted not to hold a hearing this year on a bill that would get rid of the exemption in cases where a child is seriously injured or dies as a result of not getting medical attention. Heider worries changing the law would infringe on religious freedom.
Heider was also mentioned prominently in this story in the Daily Mail, which summarizes his comments to “Today.” The story incorrectly identifies the Waltons as members of the Followers of Christ, which is a Pentecostal offshoot with members in Idaho and Oregon that believes in healing by prayer and anointing with oil rather than modern medicine. Most of the coverage of the issue has focused on the Followers due to child deaths from preventable causes among members of that group that have come to media attention, which is probably why the mistake was made.
Boise Democrat John Gannon brought legislation in 2014 and again this year to change the law — this year’s version was called “Mariah’s Law” by its supporters — but has been unable to get a hearing. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has called on legislative leadership to convene a work group to study the issue during the interim, and he told the Spokane Spokesman-Review earlier this week he hopes the leadership will convene one.