A Minnesota couple who “had issues” with doctors are accused of letting their adopted son die of pancreatitis, choosing instead to pray rather than get medical care for him, WCCO (Minneapolis) is reporting.
Prior to late March, Seth Johnson was a healthy and vivacious 7-year-old boy. Medical records described him as “conversant, vivacious,” and make no mention of anything remarkable.
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Seth’s adoptive parents, Timothy and Sarah Johnson of Plymouth, in suburban Minneapolis, believed otherwise. They believed that Seth, whom they adopted when he was 4, had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), fetal alcohol syndrome, and a non-specific brain injury. However, no medical records mentioned any such conditions.
Further, rather than get Seth medical care, the criminal complaint against them alleges, they chose to research the conditions they believed Seth had, and treat him themselves. How they intended to do that is not clear.
By late March, Seth had gone from a strong and healthy young lad to a very sick one. He had difficulty eating; it would take him “a couple of hours” to down even a few bites of pizza, according to CBS News. He had trouble sleeping. He began throwing himself down the stairs.
Still, the couple wouldn’t get him medical help for fear that doctors would put him on medications, something his parents allegedly didn’t believe in.
A few days before he died, the Johnsons went out of town for a wedding, leaving Seth in the care of an “older sibling.” It is not clear, as of this writing, how old that sibling was at the time of Seth’s death. Nevertheless, when they returned, they found Seth “hardly moving.” Again, rather than seek medical care, they decided instead to pray.
It wasn’t until the next morning, when they woke up and found Seth unresponsive, that the Johnsons called 911.
When emergency medical personnel arrived at the home, they found a horrifying sight: the emaciated boy lying unresponsive on a vomit-soaked mattress. What’s more, he had bruises and contusions on his cheek, forearms, chest, buttocks, and lower abdomen. His legs were covered in blisters.
A later autopsy would show that the boy died of pancreatitis and possible sepsis (blood poisoning).
Pancreatitis, according to WebMD, is an inflammation of the appendix. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, upper abdominal pain, fever, and an increased heart rate. It’s also treatable: even an acute attack of pancreatitis can be turned around with IV fluids, blood pressure medication, and pain medication. In rare cases, surgery may be required. However, if left untreated, according to the U.K.’s National Health Service, one in three cases of acute pancreatitis will turn fatal.
Seth Johnson is not the first child to die because his or her parents allegedly chose to treat their sick child with prayer. In fact, according to a Massachusetts Prevention Center report, it happens with rather alarming regularity.
In fact, such cases often go unpunished, according to a 2009 Slate report, due the fact that several states allow a so-called “religious exemption” when it comes to medical neglect. However, that exemption is applied haphazardly and varies from state to state and case to case, and sometimes parents are punished when their child dies from lack of medical care in favor of prayer.
Such appears to be the case with the Johnsons in Minnesota; both are facing one count each of child neglect resulting in substantial bodily harm, a gross misdemeanor. If convicted, they could each be punished with up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.
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