OREGON CITY – When the trial of Dale and Shannon Hickman begins this week in Clackamas County, the curtain again rises on a familiar tragedy, one centered on the death of a child and on parents whose unwavering faith in divine healing may lead them to prison.
The congregation has a long history of children dying from curable conditions because parents rejected medical care in favor of spiritual treatments.
The Hickmans are charged with second-degree manslaughter.
They are fourth couple prosecuted in the past two years by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office for failing to seek adequate medical care for a child. In the previous cases, all but one defendant was convicted and sentenced to jail or prison.
Theologically Followers of Christ Church is a cult of Christianity.
The trial over David Hickman’s death could last five weeks. Many days will be filled with testimony from medical experts and discussions of prenatal care, midwifery practices and the impact of a bacterial infection on a fetus. As in past Followers cases, religious freedom, parental rights and the government’s responsibility to protect children will find their way into the fray.
Court documents, pre-trial hearings and questions asked in jury selection give a sense of the arguments each side may offer.
The jury must consider a couple of key questions: Did the Hickmans fail to recognize that David faced a substantial and unjustifiable risk that could result in serious harm or death? And did they respond to that risk as a reasonable person would. Simply put, did the Hickmans adhere to community standards of care for a medically fragile newborn.