Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Dennis Klimchuk
Faith healing deaths occur infrequently in Canada, but when they do they pose a considerable challenge for criminal justice. Similar to caregivers who absent-mindedly and fatally forget a child in a hot vehicle, faith healers do not intentionally harm their children. It can seem legally excessive and unjust to prosecute achingly bereaved parents. But unlike ‘hot-car’ deaths, faith healing parents are not absent minded in the deaths they cause. Rather, significant deliberation and strength of will is necessary to treat their child’s ailment with faith alone. Two different Criminal Code provisions can be brought to bear upon these deaths, namely, s. 215 ‘Failing to provide the necessaries of life’ and s. 219 ‘Criminal negligence’. From a public, medical, and scientific perspective treating potentially fatal ailments with ‘faith’ and ‘prayer’ seems like reckless endangerment, giving apparent justification to the more serious criminal negligence charge. But, the fault element in the criminal negligence offence continues to be a vexing issue in Canadian jurisprudence. People accused of negligence-based offences are commonly held to the standard of what a reasonable person might predictably have done in similar circumstances. While it is unnecessary for the impartial trier of fact to conceive of faith healing as ‘reasonable’, it is an open question whether faith healers are sufficiently unreasonable to warrant serious criminal condemnation and possible incarceration when their course of action causes death. Is it justifiable to think of faith healers who cause death as criminally unreasonable? That is, do they depart markedly enough from the standard that criminal negligence is rightly attributed to them? Public attitudes toward religion, religious fundamentalism, and healthcare must be considered when trying to discern what a reasonable person does when treating an ailing child at risk of death.
Nickel, Ken, "Trusting to a Fault: Criminal Negligence and Faith Healing Deaths" (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3105.