Monday, March 24, 2008

Church Withholds Medical Care, Child Dies


A small sect in Oregon, the Followers of Christ, does not believe in medical treatment of any kind. Following the death of a 15-month-old girl, the parents may be facing criminal charges for failing to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child.

Following the deaths of several children from easily curable disease, the Oregon legislature passed a law they felt was “drawing a fine line between punishing devout parents and ensuring necessary medical care for youngsters” in 1999.

Following the death of 15-month-old Ava Worthington from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection, easily treatable with antibiotics, says Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner, prosecutors are looking into whether or not the parents should be prosecuted under the 1999 law. If so it would be the first prosecution under the law.

Dr. Young also reported a benign cyst that had never been medically addressed on Ava’s neck that would have complicated her breathing and could have been easily removed.

Oregon, like other states, wishes to be tolerant of religious views and a citizens First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion. That freedom, though, should not supercede a child’s life, felt the Oregon legislature, when they passed the law HB 2494, stripping the “shield of religious exemption from a parent's or custodian's duty to provide a sick or injured child with medical care.”

Prior, Oregon law stated,

"charges of criminal mistreatment do not apply" to a person who provides a child "with spiritual treatment through prayer from a duly accredited practitioner of spiritual treatment ... in lieu of medical treatment."


Officials felt they had resolved the ongoing problem with the Followers of Christ, a small sect of approximately 1200 people, until the death of 15-month-old Ava.

Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney, Greg Horner said,
it's too early to know what, if any, charges the parents could face. We are reviewing the case, and our investigation is progressing.”


Neither the family nor the Church has made any statement or returned any calls.

Rita Swan, president of Iowa-based Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty says,
It certainly was our fervent hope that changing the laws in 1999 would change the behavior of the Followers of Christ,” adding, “they’re very stubborn people who have decided it’s more important to act out their religious beliefs than protect the life of their flesh and blood child.”


Just how far the state should go into interfering with Freedom of Religion in order to save children will have to be settled by the courts. Whether or not this becomes a Supreme Court case also is unknown at his time.

While prosecutors ponder the fate of the parents and lawyers line up on either side of the issue, an innocent 15-month-old girl lies in a grave, never having had a chance to decide her own free choices.

UPDATE: Little Ava's parents, Carl Brent Worthington, 28, and Raylene Worthington, 25, have been indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree criminal mistreatment in the March 2 death of their daughter.

6 comments:

Verlin Martin said...

There should be no law that harms anyone's right to religious freedom if they are able to pick their religion (ie Adult).

There should be laws that protect children from dying because of their parents religious choices however.

Lew Waters said...

No argument, Verlin. But, how do we get a law that gets needed medical care to these children of such a secretive group without stepping over Freedom of Religion?

Oregon's 1999 law saying religion was not a defense in not seeking needed medical care was supposed to fix that. Instead, the group became more secretive and an innocent 15 month old paid for it.

Since they don't believe in medical care, no doctor knows when a child is in need because they don't go to doctors.

Can we legally invade their privacy to monitor the children and not set a precedent for interfering in other religions?

Children should not have to pay with their lives for their parents religious beliefs, but how do we counter such a backward belief and maintain freedom of religion?

That's my dilemma. I see no simple solution, but something must be done.

Verlin Martin said...

Law will NEVER fix anything, law is made to punish :)

You cannot EVER stop people from being people, what you do is punish the guilty and look for others to learn from it. If they do, then pat yourself on the back, if they don't, you punish them when they break the law.

Lew Waters said...

No argument, I agree.

I guess it is now in the hands of the prosecutor to file charges or drop.

rider237 said...

while i agree it is terrible for a child to die of a treatable condition, the states have the right to make laws that cover these things. the constitution only prevents congress from making laws that prohibit the free expression of religion. all other things are left to the states.
if it comes to a constitutional battle between religious freedom and states rights, i think the parents lose.

where have you guys been. i thought i was the only red in Oregon!

Lew Waters said...

We've been here for some time, but we are in Washington, barely. If you listen to the radio, tune in KPAM 860 AM from 5 to 8 weeknights for Victoria Taft. She has a blog site too.

Victoria Taft Blog

As for the Worthignton's, I fully support freedom of religion, but when that religion harms others, especially their children, steps must be taken.

I find it reprehensible that many defend this act of allowing a child to die, but are up in arms over the polygamist sect in Texas and how they were doing children.

Both are abusive to me.