Ore. parents face charges in child’s death
A couple charged with manslaughter claim they were within their constitutional rights when they decided to pray for their 15-month old daughter rather than take her to a doctor to treat her pneumonia.
But legal experts believe that Carl and Raylene Worthington will likely have a difficult time arguing freedom of religion over the state’s duty to protect children from harm.
A pre-trail hearing is scheduled for Monday in the case against the Worthingtons, whose toddler Ava died in March 2008. The state medical examiner said Ava could have easily been treated with antibiotics.
The trial, scheduled to start June 23, comes about a decade after the Oregon Legislature amended state law to restrict an exemption for faith healing and to bar arguments that religious beliefs prevent seeking medical help.
The revision in state law came in response to an investigation into a series of deaths of children whose parents belonged to the church and suffered from untreated illnesses that were curable.
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A small church cemetery is lined with the graves of dozens of children — suggesting an extraordinary increase over the average death rate for children in the United States, according to Dr. Seth Asser, a Boston pediatrician who has studied the practices of faith healing groups for years.
He said such deaths are far more common among fringe groups with small congregations that stand apart from mainstream churches.
The judge in the case, Clackamas County Circuit Judge Steven Mauer, said at a hearing in January that “I do not feel we are on unplowed legal ground” before he rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges.
A number of legal experts agree the law is fairly well settled when it comes to requiring medical treatment for children.
“Faith healing practitioners and individuals who believe in faith healing have had a lot more difficult time, if not almost impossible time” defending themselves in the deaths of children, said Steven Green, a Willamette University law professor.