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Germany

In Germany, 'mystic' parents get jail time for denying child medical treatment

Germany's highest court has ruled against a woman and her guru boyfriend who were charged with refusing the teenage son's urgently needed cystic fibrosis treatment. They had opted to rely on meditation instead.

The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) upheld the ruling by a lower court on Tuesday, confirming that a woman, 49, and her partner, 55, face a three-year prison sentence for serious abuse of their son.

The couple didn't comply with its duty of making sure the boy, 13 years old at the time, received the medical attention he needed, the Karlsruhe-based court said. In 2014, a regional court found the mother and her partner guilty of abusing the son from 1999 to 2002 by not taking him to see a doctor or giving him medication, and had handed down the original prison sentence.

The son, now 28, suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that clogs the lungs and digestive system with mucus. There is no cure, but treatment with inhalers and medication eases the symptoms.

In response to Tuesday's ruling, Paula Honkanen-Schoberth, the managing director of the German Child Protection Agency (DKSB), emphasized the importance of parents' providing essential medication to their children.

"Children have the right to the best possible health," Honkanen-Schoberth told DW.

Seriously underweight

When the boy was a young teenager, he and his mother had moved in with a man known as the "guru" of Lonnerstadt, a town near Nuremberg in southern Germany.

The couple, both leaning toward mysticism, argued they felt unable to impose medical treatment on the teenage boy, so they left it up to him. His guru step-father, a self-styled "teacher of ageless wisdom" suggested meditating and fasting.

If the boy meditated with his step-father several times a day, the man said, he would be cured by his 18th birthday. At age 15, the boy weighed just 30 kilograms (66 pounds), his lungs were irreparably damaged.

In 2012, the young man, who had since fled to his biological father, filed a lawsuit just in time before the case fell under the statute of limitations. "He didn't want anything like that to ever happen to other children," his lawyer said.

Human rights treaty

Ulrich Fegeler, press spokesman for the German Pediatricians' Association (BVKJ), told DW his colleagues occasionally experience cases where parents wittingly decide to withhold medication or life-saving treatment from their children, adding it's a good thing when "decisions are finally made in favor of the child's wellbeing."

A similar case in Germany from the recent past involved another set of parents who had steadily reduced their two-year-old diabetic daughter's insulin, reportedly feeding her raw fruit and vegetables instead in hopes of getting a grip on the disease. In 2009, the girl died. She was four-years old. The parents were later convicted of manslaughter and received an eight-month suspended sentence.

German pediatricians are now urging the creation of the position of a Children's Commissioner with the federal government, Fegeler said - to enforce the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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