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Butch Otter

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter speaks at an Idaho Press Club breakfast on Thursday. Otter announced Thursday that he wants legislative leaders to create a work group to study the issue of faith healing and child deaths in Idaho.

Five infants died in 2013 whose deaths may have been prevented but weren't because their parents didn't seek treatment for religious reasons, according to the latest report from the Idaho Child Fatality Review Team.

All five deaths in 2013 involved newborns younger than a month old, according to the team's latest report. (Here's the link; go to page 77.)

"Statewide, perinatal conditions are a leading cause of death to infants (resulting in a total of 58 deaths in Idaho that year)," the report says. "The category includes deaths related to prematurity, respiratory issues and various labor complications. However, the team determined that the 5 deaths to infants who were reportedly not medically treated (for example, those caused by meconium aspiration, intestinal blockages, and sepsis) may have been prevented with proper and timely medical treatment."

The report says there were three such child deaths it identified in 2012, and two in 2011. The cases were identified based on death certificates and coroner reports, the report says.

"The CFR Team‘s position is that these exemptions may prevent authorities from investigating and monitoring neglect cases and discourage reporting of these incidents," the report says. "Apart from strengthening laws to protect children from preventable deaths, current law is confusing for medical providers and investigative agencies."

The review team, assembled by the Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk, consists of a mix of law enforcement and medical personnel who review child deaths from all causes statewide and make recommendations as to how to prevent them.

Although most states have some level of exemption for parents with religious objections to medical treatment, Idaho is one of a handful where practicing faith healing alone is a defense if a child dies. Efforts to change the law over the past few years haven't gone anywhere, with some opponents of change saying they don't want to violate the religious freedom of faith-healing parents, but legislative leaders have, at Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's request, appointed a workgroup to study the issue during the interim before next year's session.

The group is co-chaired by Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian. Appointed in mid-June, it hasn't scheduled its first meeting yet. The only local lawmaker on the panel is Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer.


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