Followers of Christ Church parents on trial for medical neglect of child

The trial of Timothy and Rebecca Wyland for the medical neglect of their now 18-months-old daugher got underway last Friday.

Their daughter, Alayna, has a growth on her left eye which doctors say was making her blind. She was put in temporary state custody last summer and her condition has improved with treatment.

The Wylands belong to the Followers of Christ Church, a cult of Christianity whose extreme faith healing beliefs and practices have left a trail of dead children in its wake.

They are the third set of parents from the church to stand trial for medical neglect of a child. Another Followers of Christ Church couple is scheduled to stand trial in September for the death of their son, who was born six weeks premature, weighing 3 pounds, 5 ounces.

The New York Times reports:

At birth, the girl, Alayna, was a pink-cheeked bundle, but by 6 months, a growth the size of a baseball had consumed the left side of her face, pushing her eyeball out of its socket. […]

Alayna Wyland

“Timothy and Rebecca Wyland — they recognized that medical attention was mandated for this condition,” said Christine Landers, the state prosecutor who is trying the Wylands for first-degree criminal mistreatment, a felony that can carry a five-year prison term. “Instead, they anointed her with oils and laid down hands.”  

Alayna was found to have a hemangioma, a benign tumor that may cause blindness if it grows around the eye. […]

Mr. Wyland, 45, and Ms. Wyland, 24, are the most recent members of the Followers of Christ Church to face trial for not obtaining medical care for their children.

The church first came under criticism in 1998 after the local news media reported that of the 78 children buried in the church’s graveyard, at least 21 could have survived if they had received medical attention.

At the time, Clackamas County prosecutors said they were prevented from intervening by Oregon laws that gave legal protection to parents who refused because of their faith to seek medical care for their children.

The next year, the state Legislature repealed this exemption.

Last Monday the Oregon Senate joined the House in passing a measure sparked by the Followers of Christ Church deaths.

Under current law, spiritual treatment can be used as a defense against some charges.  House Bill 2721 would eliminate those defenses and parents choosing faith healing over medical treatment for a child who dies could face tough mandatory sentences. It is expected that the bill will quickly be signed into law.

The Wyland’s defense attorneys on Friday painted the actions of the state of Oregon as inspired by ‘religious prejudice.”

The Oregonian says:

Defense attorneys John Neidig and Mark Cogan told jurors that the Wylands are loving parents who became victims of overzealous child welfare workers at the Oregon Department of Human Services. The state “took a child away from her parents without adequate investigation,” said Neidig, who represents Rebecca Wyland.

Neidig hinted that DHS is biased against Followers of Christ members.

Alayna remains in state custody but lives with her parents.

The Wylands were unaware that “a mushroom cloud of misinformation poisoned by religious prejudice” had erupted at DHS, Neidig said.

The girl received court-ordered medical treatment for her condition, known as a hemangioma — an abnormal buildup of blood vessels.

Left untreated, Alayna would have lost vision in her left eye, said doctors who testified at juvenile court custody hearings last year. The eye still is not properly set in its socket, Landers said.

The case pivots on the word “knowingly.”

Oregon’s criminal mistreatment statute says it is a crime when a parent “knowingly withholds necessary and adequate … medical attention” from his or her child.

The Wylands watched for seven months as the spongy red-and-maroon lump slowly engulfed Alayna’s eye but did nothing and had no intention of doing anything, Landers said. An investigator reported that Rebecca Wyland said she was “concerned … but medical care wasn’t an option” for her child.

Criminal mistreatment in the first degree is a Class C felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. Oregon law requires a 10-2 verdict to convict.

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]
Research resources on faith healing
Cult FAQ
More articles about Followers of Christ Church, theologically a cult of Christianity

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 30, 2011.
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