BOISE - The Senate Health and Welfare Committee may soon consider a bill that would amend religious exemptions for faith healing, but not take them all away.
Parents would continue to have the right to refuse vaccinations or extraordinary care for their children. However, if a child's life is at serious risk, medical help would be required by law.
A panel was held Thursday at the Statehouse to discuss the injury to child law on the books. Mariah Walton spoke at the panel. The 20-year-old grew up in a religion that believes in faith healing over medical care.
"I would wake up with severe headaches," explained Walton. "I would cry for hours and my parents ignored it. I would be very short of breath and my lungs would hurt."
Walton is now awaiting a heart and double lung transplant. Doctor's say her congenital heart defect could have been easily fixed at birth, but going untreated for 18 years has left her in a life-threatening position.
"We don't feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed in Idaho this year," said Sen. Lee Heider, chairman of the Health and Welfare Committee. "Let them worship how, where and what they may. I don't have a concern about other people's beliefs. You know, it's a first amendment right... the freedom of religion."
Although he believes Idaho's religious exemptions are not a problem, Heider has said if a bill comes forward addressing faith healing he would take it seriously and hold a hearing. Now, a bill is sitting on his desk.
"It's pretty simple really," said Rep. John Gannon, who is co-sponsoring the bill. "It's designed to require treatment for a child if a child is in imminent danger of dying."
The Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is also sponsoring the bill.
"The exemption is still there for religious belief," explained Gannon. "You don't have to vaccinate or give aspirin. "It's really if there's something extraordinarily serious going on."
Gannon says he's surprised there has been so much controversy around changing the injury to child law. Because many child deaths could be prevented with medicine like antibiotics or insulin, it should be something everyone can agree on, he said.
Governor Butch Otter recently voiced concern about children dying in the state because their parents choose prayer over medical care. He has asked for a legislative committee to be formed to look at the religious exemptions in Idaho.
Make sure to watch the News at 10 on Thursday for a special 7 Investigates report on faith healing in Idaho.
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