Protecting Killers

I wrote some time ago about Leilani and Dale Neumann. They thought it appropriate to only pray for their diabetic daughter. They did not take her to get diagnosed, and when her health became grave, they continued in their quest to neglect her. They deserve to be put in prison; they have other children, not to mention the fact that not convicting them would encourage more parents to neglect their children through the meaninglessness of prayer.

Well, there’s good news and bad news. They were convicted earlier this year. Unfortunately, despite the fact that a jury decided these people were guilty of second-degree reckless homicide, the judge gave them a slap on the wrist. He sentenced them to 6 months in prison with 10 years of probation. The 6 months will be served over the course of 6 years – just one month a year. Compare this to the maximum they could have received – 25 years each – and it’s obvious that justice has not been served.

There are two mitigating factors to be noted, neither of which had a legal bearing on this particular case. The first is that Wisconsin is one of 30 states that protect faith-healing monsters. The law did not apply in this case. However, it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t a factor in sentencing. Second, the judge took pity on this couple because of their religion. He gave them an unfounded respect for their wacky and dangerous beliefs. Prayer will cure diabetes as well as it will restore an amputee’s leg.

The above link to their sentencing also cites similar sentence lengths for other, far less offensive crimes.

Russell J. Wozniak Jr. and Jennifer Ann Wozniak, of Chippewa Falls, Wis., received basically the same sentence as the Neumanns for, the criminal complaint said, allowing their 2-year-old to wander around covered in vomit and wearing a full diaper.

It’s absurd to pretend that the death of Kara Neumann is at all equal to what the Wozniak’s did. They had a child in a bad situation. So did the Neumanns. The difference is that the Wozniak’s child is still alive.

Then there are similar cases with differing sentences.

Then there are the parents of Alex Washburn. The 22-month-old died after hitting his head at home in Cross Lanes, W.Va. His parents, Elizabeth Dawn Thornton and Christopher Steven Washburn, said the boy fell a lot and hit his head on the corner of a table and his chin on a toilet. They apologized for not seeking medical help and agreed to terminate their parental rights to their other children, handing over custody to the state. “I wish I did seek medical treatment for my son faster,” Washburn told the court. “That will definitely be with me for the rest of my life.” The court sentenced both parents to three to 15 years in prison.

There are two differences here with the Neumanns. First, religion was not a factor for Thornton’s and Washburn’s actions. Second, Washburn was remorseful. He did not believe what he did was right; he recognized the evil in his actions. In contrast, here is a quote from Neumann.

If I in a moment of crisis and in a moment of time, I went to anyone else but the Lord, it would not have been favorable to God,

Here he has defended his inhumane actions. That should be unacceptable to anyone of rationality. Here is another quote (found in sentencing link).

I am guilty of trusting my Lord’s wisdom completely. . . . Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God.

As if his lack of regret about his cruelty was not enough, his wife feels the same.

I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter’s health.

Really read that. This woman does not regret acting in a way that resulted in her daughter’s avoidable death. If you’re a parent reading this, ask yourself if you could ever say such a horrible thing. Ask yourself if you would ever be proud of behaving in a way that resulted in the death of your child.

More naturopathy

Over at ScienceBlogs, Greg Laden has an excellent post concerning naturopathic medicine. Here he describes one incident of the sort of danger these quack practitioners pose.

The Naturopath treated John with various herbal and homeopathic medicines, and recommended other treatments such as massage. But during the last few months, John had become weaker and weaker, threw up more and more often, and despite a marked increase in the herbal treatments (which, unfortunately, were not particularly homeopathic, and thus not guaranteed to be as harmless as water) John started to lose weight at an alarming rate.

John had a gut obstruction in his small intestines which prevented him from consuming enough food and retaining proper nutrients. This could have been diagnosed and fixed when it first showed up. Instead, John would need emergency surgery. He almost lost his life because of naturopathic ‘medicine’.

Lac Operon

The lac operon of E. coli is the classic example for describing inducible prokaryotic gene expression. One excellent video description of it can be found here.

The jist is this. Not all genes are turned on all the time. There are ones which are needed constantly, others which are only needed in specific types of cells, and then others which are ‘turned on’ in specific situations. It is on this last point which I will focus.

In order for a gene to be ‘turned on’, it must be ‘off’ in the first place. All this means is that an organism’s (relevant) DNA is not being transcribed, thus preventing translation and the manifestation of proteins. The way this occurs in E. coli by means of the lac operon is that the lac repressor is bound to a DNA sequence.

A repressor is itself a protein. It binds to an organism’s DNA, thus preventing RNA polymerase from transcribing anything. This is a physical blockade; the repressor prevents the RNA polymerase from physically attaching and running along a specific sequence of DNA. This is the default position for an inducible repressor.

The way the repressor is removed is simple to understand. It has a specific shape to it which enables it to bind to the DNA sequence. However, this shape can be changed if lactose is present. The lactose will bind to the repressor, thus causing an allosteric change in shape. This means the repressor is no longer the specific shape needed to attach to the DNA, so it releases its ‘grip’.

This release allows the RNA polymerase to continue with transcription. This, eventually, turns to translation. In this stage, enzymes are created, two of which are β-galactoside permease and β-galactosidase (there is a third which can be ignored here). The former of the two is membrane-bound. This means it becomes embedded in the cell membrane. This quickens the transport of lactose from outside to inside the cell. Think of it like a tunnel through which only specific shapes can fit.

Once these specific shapes (lactose molecules) pass into the cell, ß-galactosidase breaks them into their constituents, one of which is glucose. This is used as a key source of energy in many organisms, including E. coli.

Once concentration falls, lactose molecules are no longer bound to the repressor, making it free to resume its normal duties attached to DNA.