Ava clearly showed grave illness, pediatrician testifies
OREGON CITY — Ava Worthington‘s weakened and worsening condition was so serious that her parents should have called 9-1-1 a full day before the toddler died, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases testified Thursday.
In fact, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington ignored several red flags that, if heeded, would have saved their 15-month-old daughter’s life, said Dr. Sayonara Mato, a pediatric hospitalist with Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center.
The Worthingtons, members of an Oregon City church that practices faith healing, are charged with criminal mistreatment and second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide adequate medical treatment for Ava. Their trial in Clackamas County Circuit Court started Monday.
The Worthingtons never questioned their daughter’s failure to develop normally, ignored a cyst that would swell when she had an infection, and chose not seek medical help when she became noticeably more distressed, said Mato, a prosecution witness.
Ava died at home on March 2, 2008, of pneumonia, a blood infection and complications from a cyst that interfered with her trachea and esophagus.
If the Worthingtons had asked for medical advice when Ava’s breathing became more labored the day before her death, “I would have instructed them to call 9-1-1,” Mato said.
Ava had never seen a doctor, and her medical condition was never assessed. Consequently, the Worthingtons did not know what warning signs to watch for and did not question the child’s failure to grow, Mato said.
Faith healing or inhuman sacrifice?
… Because we are desperate to believe that the familial bonds are sacred and reasonably private, her parents, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington, are only charged with criminal mistreatment and second-degree manslaughter. They sat quietly through Thursday’s testimony, as did the usual ensemble from their church, the Followers of Christ in Oregon City.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Christ tells his followers that if they are not serving the hungry, the lost, the prisoners and the sick, they are not serving him. They will be told, Jesus says, on Judgment Day, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
The survivors in the Worthingtons’ church apparently believe differently. They contend that trusting in doctors, hospitals and medicine betrays a lack of faith. The rows of graves in the church cemetery haven’t changed their minds. Only the living, you see, have the luxury of pondering the mystery of God’s random benevolence.
The prosecution is making a convincing case in this Oregon City courtroom that Ava Worthington wasn’t felled by a sudden stab of pneumonia. She suffered for months. Because the swelling of the benign cystic hygroma on her neck compressed her airway and esophagus, she struggled to swallow, struggled to breathe, struggled to accept the nourishment she needed.
While Ava’s head grew at a normal rate, Mato said, because the body was so desperate to protect her brain, the rest of her body steadily wasted away: “She stopped growing. That is not an overnight event. That takes months … Her growth reflects there was a chronic problem.”
Not a fatal one, however, for your average, God-fearing parent. Just a signal to go see a doctor, and gently place your child in the hands of someone who understands that bacteria and disease aren’t tests of faith, but the inconveniences of life in a fallen world.
Unfortunately, the Worthingtons’ faith and the Worthingtons’ church shun those interventions. “I don’t believe in (doctors),” Ava’s father told detectives in Clackamas County’s child-abuse unit. Medical treatment “is not a question. It’s not even thought.”
That is not love or faith or humility talking. That is pride.
Theologically, the Followers of Christ church is a cult of Christianity. It’s extreme stance on faith healing is unbiblical, and places the church outside the boundaries of the Christian faith. Sociologically the church should also be considered a destructive cult, as its practices are harmful to its followers and/or their dependents.