An Oregon City couple will face charges of second-degree manslaughter in the faith-healing death of their newborn son, the third such fatality involving the Followers of Christ church in the past two years.
Dale R. Hickman and Shannon M. Hickman, both 25, were booked about 1 a.m. Friday at the Clackamas County Jail. Dale Hickman’s father, Phillip Hickman, posted 10 percent of their $500,000 bail, and they were released about two hours later. They will be formally charged Aug. 30.
Their infant son was born in September, 2009, about six weeks premature. He weighed 3 pounds, 5 ounces and lived nine hours.
No one with medical training attended the birth, and no one called a doctor or ambulance. An autopsy determined the infant died of staph pneumonia and complications from a premature birth, including underdeveloped lungs.
The medical examiner noted the presence of a bacterial infection, which could have caused the amniotic sac to rupture, or the water to break as the event is commonly called.
The Hickman indictments comes amid a high-profile case involving two other church members. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of first degree criminal mistreatment for failing to provide medical care to their 7-month-old daughter, Alayna.
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Members of the Followers of Christ church rely on faith-healing rituals – anointing with oil, prayer and the laying on of hands – rather than secular medicine. Church members have testified that they would not go to a doctor or hospital even if it meant the difference between life and death, preferring to put their faith solely in God’s power to heal.
The Hickman and Wyland indictments underscore a pledge by Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote to aggressively prosecute church members who fail to provide necessary medical care to their children, as required under Oregon law.
Foote reached out to church members earlier this year, urging them to seek common ground that would assure that their children receive adequate medical care.
The state medical examiner’s office reported after a series of similar incidents in the 1990s that more than 20 children of church members had died in recent decades from preventable or curable illnesses. In part because of laws granting parents legal immunity for certain crimes in such cases, none of the Followers of Christ deaths resulted in prosecution.