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.