Children of parents charged in faith healing death of son become wards of the state

Six siblings in Creswell, Oregon, became wards of the state Monday as their parents await trial in connection with the death of their teenage son, who died in December after the couple allegedly chose prayer over medical care for his undisclosed treatable ailment.

The Register-Guard reports

Brandi and Russel Bellew face second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of 16-year-old Austin Sprout. But they may continue to care for their remaining children under a state-supervised “in-home safety plan,” Lane County Circuit Juvenile Court Judge Eveleen Henry also ruled in a brief afternoon hearing.

Terms of that plan include the presence of a state-approved “safety provider,” immediate notification of the state Department of Human Services if any of the children has “medical symptoms, illness or injury” and calling 911 if any medical emergency arises.

The family attends the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born in Pleasant Hill, which generally believes in using prayer instead of medical care to treat illnesses. The safety monitor, Del McCracken, is a fellow church member, but “believes in seeking medical care and advocates for the children to have medical care,” the plan states.

The Bellews must also take turns being with the children, because they are forbidden contact with each other under terms of their pre-trial release from jail. Court records show that Russel Bellew, 39, is living in Springfield, while Brandi Bellew, 36, is living in the couple’s Creswell house. His attorney, Bob Schrank, told Henry that Russel Bellew agreed that all the children should remain in their Creswell home.

The children are a blended family, created when Brandi and Russel Bellew married after both were widowed. [...]

In their only objections during the hearing, Schrank and Brandi Bellew’s lawyer, Hugh Duvall, challenged as unnecessary the state’s request that both parents undergo a comprehensive psychological exam.

But Lane County Deputy District Attorney Lisa Christon said the state had a solid basis for seeking the exams.

“By no means are we suggesting that these parents are crazy,” she said. “But we are asking the family to make a significant, life-changing decision about a practice (faith-healing) they have long upheld. We want a professional opinion that they are able to do that.”

Henry ordered the exams, but allowed the couple to delay them until their criminal case is resolved.

‘Faith Healing Bill’

In June, 2011, the governor of Oregon signed into law House Bill 2721, which “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age.”

The bill had been introduced in response to the ongoing series of preventable deaths in another ‘faith healing’ congregation, the Followers of Christ church.

House Bill 2721 “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age” [Full text PDF file] Signed into law, June 9, 2011
Research resources on faith healing
Online book: Churches That Abuse

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