This is Mariah Walton. She’s 20 and has pulmonary hypertension, which ruined her lungs and left her very frail. When she’s not bedridden, she carries an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe, and has had screws in her bones to anchor her breathing device. She is currently awaiting a heart and lung transplant to help with her disability.
And none of this would have happened — if her parents had taken her to a doctor. The Guardian newspaper profiled the young woman. They explained:
All this could have been prevented in her infancy by closing a small congenital hole in her heart. It could even have been successfully treated in later years, before irreversible damage was done. But Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.
As she grew sicker and sicker, Mariah’s parents would pray over her and use alternative medicine. Until she finally left home two years ago, she did not have a social security number or a birth certificate.
“She’s in pain or feeling ill about one-third of the time,” says Emily Walton, who lives with her sister in Boise, away from their parents. “She’s on some powerful medicines that are keeping her going, but once they stop working she’ll need a lung transplant and maybe a heart transplant.”
According to Fox News, the revelation that Mariah’s condition could have been prevented motivated her to leave her home, move in with sisters who had already left, and call for her parents’ prosecution.
“Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted,” Mariah told The Guardian. “They deserve it. And it might stop others.”
Mariah and Emily’s parents are a fringe Mormon family, not following the teachings of the mainstream Mormon church. If they lived in another state, that prosecution might be possible, but they and other faith healer parents are protected in Idaho. As Fox News explains:
Under Idaho’s 1972 “Child Protective Act,” parents are immune from prosecution for any charges – including involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide – if they depend exclusively on faith healing. The law states that “no child whose parent or guardian chooses for such child treatment by prayers through spiritual means alone shall be deemed for that reason alone to be neglected or lack parental care.”
Idaho isn’t alone. Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and West Virginia have faith-centered safeguards for felony crimes, including manslaughter. But there are a number of adults who grew up in these religious households who are trying to change the laws. Unfortunately, that battle is difficult.
In Idaho, the governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk recommended change: “Religious freedoms must be protected; but vulnerable children must also be appropriately protected from unnecessary harm and death.” Democratic legislator John Gannon proposed a repeal bill which he “never thought would really be that controversial.” However, there was push back from Republican-controlled house. Lee Heider, the Republican chairman of the senate health and welfare committee, refused to even grant the bill a hearing, effectively killing it.
In the meantime, Mariah waits for her transplant, hoping that she’ll get help before it’s too late. The recent press has also helped her GoFundMe account, which will help her live a dream of visiting Paris.