Parents defend using prayer, not medical care, in faith-healing baby’s death

On Tuesday — the second anniversary of David Hickman’s death — his parents took the witness stand and told jurors that there was nothing they could have done to save their newborn boy. Even now, they said, they would do nothing differently.

The Oregonian reports

The Hickmans are charged with second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide medical care for David, who was born two months prematurely and lived less than nine hours. Doctors said the baby would have lived if he had been taken to a hospital — the standard response for premature babies born at home.

Defense attorneys rested their case Tuesday and after closing arguments today, jurors will start deliberating.

The Hickmans’ responses to questions from their attorneys and prosecutors were at times tearful, terse or testy.

Their answers also shed some light on the religious beliefs and practices of the Followers of Christ, the Oregon City faith-healing church that the Hickmans and their relatives have attended for generations.


The Hickmans said they never considered calling 9-1-1 after David was born because the baby’s condition changed instantly, and he died within minutes. […]

Hickman said he was awakened around 2:15 a.m. by a female relative who was caring for the baby while the couple slept. David struggled to breathe, was ashen and listless, said Hickman, who held his son and anointed him with oil, a common faith-healing ritual. The baby died minutes later.

Prosecutors said evidence shows Hickman may have been alerted as much as 45 minutes before the death and that the parents had plenty of time to seek medical help.

When you recognized he was dying you still did not call 9-1-1, said prosecutor Mike Regan.

“I did not,” Dale Hickman said

“You did not know how much longer he would live, did you?” Regan said. Why didn’t you call 9-1-1 at that moment of crisis, he asked.

“Because I was praying,” Hickman responded.

After hearing pediatricians testify that David had a 99.9 percent chance of surviving with medical care, do you still believe nothing could have been done to save your son, Regan asked?

“Yeah, I still believe that,” Dale Hickman said. […]

Although Shannon Hickman professed devotion to her children — the couple has a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-month-old son — she said she follows a biblical directive to always defer to her husband.

Even if she wanted to call 9-1-1, Shannon Hickman said she would not do so without her husband’s permission, she told prosecutor John Wentworth.

“I can say what I feel, but ultimately, he decides. It’s kind of a fine line because I don’t want to disobey him or anger him,” she said. “If I gave him my opinion, and he told me to shut up and I didn’t, then my marriage could be in jeopardy,” Shannon Hickman said. “I have to submit my husband.”

“You will do anything for your child except disobey your husband?” Wentworth asked.

“I will not disobey my husband,” she responded. […]

“[Calling 9-1-1 is] not my decision anyway,” she said. “I think it’s God’s will whatever happens.”

Other church members offered similar testimony, stating a deeply held tenet that God makes life and death determinations, and human intervention is futile.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016