When Divine Intervention Breaks the Law

When doctors told Jacqueline Crank to get her daughter to a hospital for the tumor that was growing on her shoulder, the Tennessee woman turned to God instead.

Now the woman could face murder charges on top of the aggravated child abuse and neglect charges that she and the girl's "spiritual father," Ariel Ben Sherman, already face.

The 15-year-old girl, Jessica Crank, died on Sept. 15 from a rare form of bone cancer. One last attempt at using faith to help the girl was attempted at her funeral on Sept. 18, when Sherman asked a group of members of his New Life Ministries to pray over the girl's open casket for her resurrection.

The girl did not rise from the dead, but Sherman — who was charged with five counts of child abuse in Oregon in 1984 and convicted of criminal mistreatment — said that should not be any reason for those in his church to lose faith.

"Jesus is a healer," Sherman said at the funeral service. "Jessica believed that, too."

There is no legislation against people making their own decision not to go to a doctor, but when a parent decides not to seek medical care for a sick child, it can be considered child abuse or worse, if the child dies.

Tennessee is one of 38 states that allow parents to turn to prayer or faith healing to treat their children's illnesses and not seek medical care, but in most of those states the law specifies that if a child's condition is life threatening, a physician must be consulted.

Basketball-Sized Tumor

Crank was arrested in June, a month after she took Jessica to a Lenoir City, Tenn., clinic and, according to police, did not take the girl to an appointment with an emergency room doctor at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

"[Clinic workers] took her X-rays and looked for two hours trying to find an orthopedic surgeon and she left there under the assumption [of the clinic] she was going to UT hospital and never arrived there," Lenoir City police Officer Lynette Ladd said. "They called the area hospitals and doctor's offices and she hadn't been anywhere, so they turned it over to us."

Jessica already had a basketball-sized tumor on her shoulder when her mother brought her to the clinic. After her mother was arrested and the girl was put in the hospital, she was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Before the girl died, attorneys for Jacqueline Crank and Sherman tried to convince the court to take a deposition from her, because they said the girl supported the decision not to take her to a doctor, but the judge denied the request.

"It's the court's opinion it would be a great injustice to subject this dying child to the procedure of a deposition," Loudon County Sessions Judge William Russell said in his ruling.

"I cannot defend this mother without taking this deposition," Gregory Isaacs, the attorney for Jacqueline Crank, said at the hearing.

Loudon County Assistant District Attorney Gary Fox argued that it made no difference whether the 15-year-old wanted to rely on prayer.

"That's not a decision that the child makes. That's a decision that the parents make," he said.

Power of the Holy Spirit

While a parent's decision not to do everything possible — even if it conflicts with religious beliefs — to help an obviously desperately sick child might seem bizarre to many people, relying solely on faith to cure disease has held a place in American religious life for more than a century, at least since the emergence of the Christian Science church in the 1880s.

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