Ella Grace Deserved Better …

November 8, 2016.  Election day in the U.S. – a day we were all, democrats and republicans alike, biting our nails hoping for the best possible outcome.  Meanwhile, in Upper Tulpehocken Township, Pennsylvania, 2-year-old Ella Grace was coughing uncontrollably, feverish, and fighting for every breath.  Within hours, Ella Grace would give up the struggle and take her last breath.  The official cause of death was asphyxiation due to bacterial pneumonia, and was ruled a homicide by the coroner.  Ella Grace’s mother says the cause of death was “God’s will”.

Ella Grace Foster (10/30/2014 – 11/08/2016)

Ella Grace did not have the benefit of the antibiotics that would have almost certainly kept her alive and ensured her recovery.  She was denied that option, and her only “treatment” was the oil her grandfather rubbed into her skin. Ella Grace’s parents are members of the Faith Tabernacle Church, where the grandfather, Rowland Foster, is pastor.  As a tenet of their religion, they do not believe in medical treatment of any sort.  And so, Ella Grace was left to die, and the parents, who had six other children, chalked it up to “God’s will”.

Rowland Foster and wife

This story, brought to my attention by a dear friend, only came to my attention today because the trial for Ella’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, began on Monday.  Outside of the local news, coverage of the story has been largely non-existent.  The grandfather was charged in Ella’s death early last year on the grounds of failure, as a member of the clergy, to report medical neglect and child abuse, a third-degree felony, but the charges were dismissed by District Judge Andrea Book at the preliminary hearing.

The parents are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. “Our laws recognize that you have a duty to care for your child’s health and welfare, and we cannot justify a parent not seeking health care for their children when their children are ill,” said Berks County District Attorney John Adams. A brief summary of the case:

On Sunday, Ella Grace showed signs of a cold, with a sore throat and fever.  She got progressively worse during the next two days, but neither parent felt it necessary to seek medical treatment.  On Monday night, Grace called her father-in-law and pastor, Rowland Foster, who came to visit, rubbed oil on Ella Grace, and “prayed for her”.  By Tuesday, Ella was significantly worse, throwing up, coughing, and struggling for air.  Her mother, Grace, was frustrated, for she also had six other children, including an infant son to care for, so she called her husband, Jonathan, to come home from work to help out.  When Jonathan arrived home, he lifted Ella into his arms, where she took her last breath a short time later.

Grace & Jonathan Foster

State Trooper Brian Cipko questioned Grace Foster, and when he asked her if she knew what had caused her daughter’s death, she replied, “The way I think God just wanted her back. I believe that whether she died of this or we were in an accident that morning, He knew she was going to come home that day.”  She also stated that there were no circumstances under which she would have sought medical help for her daughter. “It never enters my mind,” she said.

Matters involving religion are touchy and, as most of you know, I steer clear of them.  This, however, I see as going beyond religion.  This is the life of a child.  But not only one child, for Ella Grace was not the first child to die because her parents’ religious beliefs kept them from seeking medical treatment, nor will she likely be the last.  Adherents to the Fosters’ religion, predominantly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have been charged in numerous other cases of children dying due to lack of medical care as a result of the parents’ religious beliefs:

  • Justin Barnhart, age two, died September 1981, in Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania of a Wilm’s tumor which grew larger than a volleyball in the child’s abdomen. The parents, William and Linda Barnhart, withheld medical care from their son because of their religious beliefs.
  • Five children of the Winterbourne family of suburban Philadelphia died of pneumonia between 1971 and 1980 without receiving medical attention. Roger Winterbourne, the father, stated: “When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the way. If you only believe in it part way, it’s not a true belief.”
  • Baby Girl and Baby Boy Still, of Germantown, Pennsylvania, died in February 1989 after their mother, Deborah, gave birth to the twins without the aid of a doctor or midwife. After 8 hours the father noticed his 5 lb. Infant girl had stopped breathing, and he called a funeral home. The next day police took her 3 lb. Brother to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The twins were born 6 weeks prematurely.
  • Melinda Sue Friedenbeger, age 18 weeks, died of starvation and dehydration on April 25, 1991, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Parents John and Kathy Friedenbeger reported she had had a fever, vomiting and diarrhea for the last several days of her life.
  • Clayton Nixon, age eight, also died in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on January 6, 1991, of dehydration and malnutrition after contracting ear and sinus infections which caused continuous vomiting. He was four feet tall at his death but weighed only 32 pounds.

In Pennsylvania, more than 25 Faith Tabernacle children have died over the years. This church is not the only one that does not believe in medical treatment, but it just happens to be the one in today’s news. Nationally, some two dozen religious sects oppose all or most forms of medical care.

In the case of the Fosters, it is expected that a jury will render a verdict by the end of the week.  The Fosters have relinquished custody of their other six children to the state of Pennsylvania.

The United States Constitution gives us the right to freedom of religion.  It is certainly the right of Jonathan and Grace Foster to choose to belong to the Faith Tabernacle Church and to follow their tenets and beliefs.  It is their right to choose not to seek medical help … for themselves.  It was not their right to decide to eschew life-saving treatment for their two-year-old daughter who was not able to make the choice for herself.  As the judge in the aforementioned case of Justin Barnhart ruled, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they [the children] have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.” There are reasons that children of every species have parents, and the first, most important one, is to protect them.  It is the opinion of this writer that the Fosters are guilty of murdering their daughter just as surely as if they had plunged a knife into her chest.  Note:  In 1983, Rita Swan founded Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), an organization that lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith over modern medicine. In 1998, she decided to team up with pediatrician Seth M. Asser to investigate the child fatalities associated with faith healing. The two began reviewing the deaths of 172 children where medical care was withheld on religious grounds. Their study showed that 140 of these children would have had a 90% likelihood of survival had they received routine medical care. 

42 thoughts on “Ella Grace Deserved Better …

  1. I have come to a similar situation in my own family. My cousin has five kids and is a pastor or is trying to be a pastor? (I’m not really sure…) Either way I know they don’t make the income they need to fully provide for the children. While the mom is super thin the kids are…. uncomfortably thin? The kids are awkwardly quiet. You know how you have your quiet and shy kids? These children are not shy, they are surprisingly lively when I have watched them. They have a lot of life, but in church or family functions it’s you sit there and be quiet… but it’s not spoken. So I see my brother’s children running around and just being kids and my cousin’s kids just sitting there looking so unsure.

    I got the news on Facebook of a my 3 year old cousin’s accident. My entire family did. The post removed after CPS was on their doorstep. I wouldn’t say the kids were medically neglected, as they have allergens and the oldest suffers with asthma to the point of needing an at home breathing treatment (I don’t know all the medical terms). The three old choked on a small chunk of carrot to which was handled by her mother, but the chunk was never coughed out. While she was able to breathe and didn’t cough anymore just felt uncomfortable and her breathing was a little rough it was assumed this was because she was just choking. She went the entire day like that and that night her breathing grew worse. Instead of taking her in to urgent care or the ER my cousin used her brother’s asthma treatment on her which forced her to cough up the chunk of carrot that was still lodged in her throat.

    What was worse was my cousin explained this incident on Facebook and left it at well our baby almost died but by God’s grace in giving me the knowledge and idea she was saved. Every other religious person I knew were commenting of oh thank God she’s alive and okay…. blah blah blah… they had yet to still take her to the doctors.

    Honestly I read it and wanted to comment, why wasn’t she taken to the doctors? Needless to say someone saw the post and reported it to CPS for medical neglect. What is sad is that the only thing my cousin took away from that situation was how it is wrong to gossip. Yes the fact that his post got shared and someone called CPS and somehow it turned into a lesson of you should not gossip.

    When religion is held higher than the safety of others, that’s a huge problem. We have medical science now. Unlike before when children did die from sickness because there was no cure etc… even still to dismiss such thing as being the will of God is almost cruel. I have been on the receiving side of that where I have had loved ones die and the words of comfort were “it was God’s will” (I don’t know how that’s comforting).

    I’m glad that these parents are being prosecuted and hopefully it will be an eye opener to all religious nuts out there. America has the freedom of religion but that does not give the right to neglect a life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How awful, the story of your cousin’s baby!!! That baby could have died! I fully agree with your statement “When religion is held higher than the safety of others, that’s a huge problem.” I am not religious, having seen early on the hypocrisy that exists in virtually all religions, but even so, I understand that Christianity is supposed to be about kindness, about caring for others, about compassion. I just don’t see that in today’s churches, and these that forbid medical treatment are bordering on criminal, in my opinion. That said, I am so glad your cousin’s baby is okay, and I thank you for sharing this story with me. Hugs!


      • Thank you so much and I am very glad they are okay as well. I would be heart broken to see something horrific happen that couldn’t have been prevented. she’s only 3 and she relies on her parents to do the right thing.

        I remember when I was sick after taking medicine I had an allergic reaction and I was throwing up to the point that my lips were turning blue cause I couldn’t stop to get enough air. I called my mom to come home because I was scared I was going to pass out. My mom came home and insisted I go to the ER. However, I was an adult it was my body to make that choice. (I did end up going to the ER lol). At 3 years old it is up to the adult and that is no joke. If my 3 old child had a reaction to medicine and was throwing up I would take them to the doctor. I don’t know just different when it’s someone else’s life that you’re responsible for… so why would you toy with it?

        It also sickens me to see people condone it and become too blind to see that it is abuse and neglect.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Gronda has said what I would have said, so I will just add this parable which can be read in lighter times as a joke.
    A man hears on the radio there will be severe rain and a risk of flooding in his area and people are to take precautions. He says ‘I will be alright. I shall pray & God will take care of me’
    The rains come, the river breaks its banks floor waters arrive, the local emergency service come around broadcasting to folk to get ready to evacuate. The man says ‘I will be alright. I shall pray & God will take care of me’.
    The rains reach his house and he is forced onto the roof, along comes a rescue helicopter he denies help. He calls out ‘I will be alright. I shall pray & God will take care of me’
    His house gives way, he drowns.
    He arrives up in Heaven, wet and angry. On being greeted by St Peter he demands to speak to God. He feels God did not listen. St Peter shrugs and leads him to God, where the man voices his complaints.
    God replies
    “I sent you a radio warning. I sent an emergency service warning. I even sent you a helicopter. What more d’ ya want?’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Terrible consequences due to parents putting religious belief above care of their own children even when the children’s lives are threatened.
    We’ve known about it for decades as Jehovah’s witnesses refuse blood transfusions to themselves and their children.
    It shows how distorted the human mind can become when natural instincts are replaced by indoctrination.
    There is much debate among Christians about spiritual healing some say it ended when the apostolic age ended , others believe the laying on if hands can heal today. The Catholic church is extremely cautious having a team of doctors examine the healings claimed at Lourdes.
    The late Steven Hawking defied predictions living a long and active life after being told he had only a few years left yet he had no strong religious convictions.
    Spare a thought for those so poor they are driven to sell their children to survive and poor children who sell one of their kidneys which generally end up in the world’s rich nations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being extremely skeptical of all religions from seeing far too much cruelty and hypocrisy done in the name of religion, I am perhaps even more convinced than some that there is no value in praying over a sick child. And, as you say, look at Stephen Hawking and others who have defied the odds without the benefit of religion. I think Karl Marx hit the nail on the head when he referred to religion as the ‘opiate of the masses’. But even if I try to put myself in the shoes of a parent whose child is sick and their religion eschews medical treatment, I simply cannot believe I would risk my child’s life, that I would be willing to sit back and say, “Oh well, God wants her back, so let me just go brew a nice cup of tea now.” It is an entirely incomprehensible world to me.


      • We might ask the question where are all the pro-life groups ? Why are they not demonstrating outside such extreme churches or cults . We see and hear plenty about them in secular society , could it be they are avoiding religious conflict ? or perhaps worried about standing on shifting ground?

        Liked by 1 person

        • The ‘pro-life’ groups are a bunch of hypocrites. As I was just telling a friend in another comment, they have no problem with children who were not wanted, not cared for, being bounced around in the foster care program, often in abusive or neglectful homes, until they are dumped on the streets at age 18. They have no problem with people being executed. Pro-life is a misnomer. They are not pro-life, just anti-abortion.


  4. Dear Jill,

    I do believe that God blessed us with doctors and medicine. These are examples of His bounty, gifts and generosity. He also blessed us with a brain which He expects us to use. Part of acting in faith, means the believer will do what he/she is able to on his/ her own and then the Lord takes over from there. The point of living in faith is to for believer to realize that he/she cannot do it alone or to at least admit help is needed. I have had to explain to prosperity type believers that God does expect them to actually apply for jobs, study, do their part.

    In some disheartening cases that I’ve encountered, is when a believer gets seriously ill with something like cancer, that others of the same belief system really do think they must have done something wrong to displease God. Real world, we all do something that is displeasing. In a healthy faith environment,the sick member would get encouragement, help, prayers, support etc. In a sick faith environment, the ill victim almost hates to share his/ her condition with the fear of being judged by others and even ostracized. How sick is that. In this case the parents were worried about how others would view them if they did seek medical care for their child.

    Some of these cult like believers think that God alone will act. It is a belief system that is hard to crack but in this case, the courts need to send a message. Children deserve the right to live without being limited by parents cult like faith.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 3 people

    • I cannot imagine a parent who could sit and watch their child die, without doing everything possible to try to save them. A belief in God is one thing, but this is unconscionable. I could make an analogy here: If you are hungry, do you sit and wait for God to fill your belly? No, you go to the fridge and make a sandwich! I just don’t understand people, my friend. Hugs!!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you on both counts! Personally, I like to take responsibility for my own self, since I’m not convinced that there is any deity who will do it for me! How’s the vacation, my friend? Hugs!!! ❤


  5. I worry about the precedent. Clearly, in cases like these parents should be denied the right to determine the fate of their children. But overly-zealous courts and social agencies often take kids away from loving parents who think their way of raising them is acceptable — and it was when they were children. And the kids are then raised by people who may or may not love them. The central issue is WHERE do we draw the line. What constitutes “abuse”?? Simple discipline? Spanking? I was spanked (even switched) on a regular basis and– except for my rampant paranoia — am more or less normal today. As I say, it is a question of When???

    Liked by 2 people

    • I quite agree that it is a slippery slope. Where, indeed, do we draw the line? A few years back, I might have answered that we must apply common sense and logic to each case individually, but as you and I both know, common sense and logic seem to be in hibernation at the moment. Many moons ago, a neighbor who had a bone to pick with me thought to get her revenge by reporting me to Children’s Services, saying I neglected my children. (I didn’t). A social worker came to my home, spoke with me and Donnie, then with each of the two older children, and realized that there was no validity to the complaint. As she was leaving, she told me that well over half the calls they get are the same … somebody seeking to get revenge on somebody else. I think I digressed there, but that came to mind as I was reading your comment, so … my mind bounces sometimes! 🙂 But back to the point, I don’t know the answer, but I think we must make sure, to whatever extent we can, that parents understand they do NOT have the right to deny their children food, shelter or medical care based on their own religious beliefs. Any parent who can sit by and watch their child die, knowing there could be a way to save them, is no parent in my opinion. And yes, you are more or less normal, at least as much so as any of us these days! 😀


      • Yours was not a digression, but precisely the point. A friend of ours smacked her teen-age son who talked back to her and he complained to the school and they sent a social worker who warned her that if it happened again they would have to take her son away! These are the people Christopher Lasch calls the “helping professions” who think they know better than their parents how to raise the kids. I know what kinds of minds those social workers have, as a rule. I taught many of them for years and I was not impressed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree that for the most part, parents ought to be the judge of disciplining their children. Like you, I was walloped as a child and I’m still here, not much worse for the wear, and I learned not to hot wire my dad’s car and go joyriding! But … what about those parents who do brutally beat their children … and there are some. Once we take a closer look at a report of child abuse, we can usually determine if it is legit or not, but what if we don’t take a look and a child ends up dead or a vegetable for life at the end of his father’s fist? Again … a slippery slope with no easy answers.


  6. I feel sick. If adults want to kill themselves or each other, I won’t shed a tear. But a child? Children and animals are helpless to protect themselves. They /trust/ us. Peope who allow them to die through neglect of any sort are murderers and deserve to be locked up for life.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for this well researched post Jill. The subject matter shocks me and I agree that the parents have the right to avoid medical care for themselves but not for the child. They’re treating children as possessions by making this kind of decision for them. I personally think the Pastor grandfather got away with a lot when the judge squashed his charges.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, this one is a heart-breaker. I cannot understand this mentality, but frankly I think that anybody who would stand by and watch their child die without at least trying to do something, does not deserve to be a parent. I couldn’t find any reason the judge gave for dismissing the charges against the grandfather, but I am with you … he should have at least gone to trial, for he had a moral obligation that he failed miserably in fulfilling.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a funny sort of justice system, isn’t it when a couple of really screwed up individuals can be charged with manslaughter through not providing proper medical care for their child who dies but it’s super OK for a country’s government to refuse and deny affordable health care to tens of millions, ensuring that of those, tens of thousands will die – for the very same reasons Ella Grace died. So you have justified mass murder by elected government representatives and officials considered just and proper if, a) it saves tax dollars and b)it constitutes a profit for someone. The very first to go to jail for life in this case should be Donald Trump and as far as I am concerned, the entire cabal of Repugnicans claiming Congress like rats partying after getting rid of the farm cats. Where’s the justice here? I’m not claiming the brainwashed parents of these dead children are right, I’m saying they are the minor criminals and essentially scapegoats the System uses to hide behind. If they have to pay a price for murder, so should the hugely bigger mass murderers under the same laws.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jill, this makes me ill. As a practical Christian, I find it arrogant that religious leaders seem to know God’s will. One of God’s miracles us our marvelous brain. When we pray for a medical miracle., how do we know the miracle is not to be delivered through modern medicine? It is like the old joke where a man complains to God for not answering his prayers to win the lottery. God parts the clouds and answers, “it would help if you bought a ticket.”

      Note, I also read Sha’Tara’s comment. Because of politics, not only is the President and Congress refusing to stabilize and improve the ACA, they are sabatoging it through strangulation and naysaying. Truth be told, two specific sets of changes by the GOP have caused premiums to go up even more – one led by Marco Rubio and the other by Donald Trump. In short, they screwed Americans to win a political argument. Keith

      Liked by 3 people

      • I agree with you. I once knew a woman who was going through a very difficult time, with several situations that required thoughtful decisions. I asked her how she was coping with it all one day, to which she replied, “Oh fine! I’m not at all worried, for I just handed it all over to God and he will take care of it for me!” Next I heard of her, she was serving a 10-year prison sentence. I guess that was God’s answer. Personally, I always thought that God expected us to use our brains, to do the best we could on our own. And that, of course, includes making decisions to keep our children well whenever possible!

        Yes, Trump was determined from the very beginning to either reverse or destroy ACA … never mind that he may be destroying the lives of the very people who elected him, in the process.

        Liked by 1 person

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