Objective. To evaluate deaths of children from families in which faith healing was practiced in lieu of medical care and to determine if such deaths were preventable.
Design. Cases of child fatality in faith-healing sects were reviewed. Probability of survival for each was then estimated based on expected survival rates for children with similar disorders who receive medical care.
Participants. One hundred seventy-two children who died between 1975 and 1995 and were identified by referral or record search. Criteria for inclusion were evidence that parents withheld medical care because of reliance on religious rituals and documentation sufficient to determine the cause of death.
Results. One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of >50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help.
Conclusions. When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical neglect.