Couple charged in son’s faith healing death free on bail

Update Brandi and Russel Bellew were each freed from custody on Tuesday afternoon after posting a total of $20,000 bail. — A Creswell, Oregon couple charged with second-degree manslaughter in the ‘faith healing’ death of their teenaged son pleaded not guilty in court Monday.

16-year-old Austin Lewis Sprout died last December.

Second-degree manslaughter carries a mandatory minimum prison term of 6 years and 3 months upon conviction.

The boy’s family belongs to the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born, a church that teaches illnesses and injuries should be treated with prayer rather than medical care — a belief referred to as faith healing.

Christians theologians and cult experts consider the church’s teachings on the subject to be extreme and contrary to sound Christian doctrine and practice.

The church has a long history of controversial deaths related to its teachings.

Austin’s mother and stepfather, Brandi Shaunai Bellew, 36, and Russel Bellew, 39, were arrested last Saturday in connection with the death of their son.

According to local TV station KVAL, authorities say the Bellews failed to get medical care for their son because of their religious beliefs.

Under Oregon State Law, Manslaughter in the Second Degree includes causing a dependent person’s death by neglect or maltreatment, including failure to provide adequate medical care.

The station quotes Shawn Sprout, one of Austin’s uncles, as saying that the teen’s parents gave their son the option to seek medical care when he was sick, but that it was Austin’s choice not to see a doctor.

“It was his choice to trust in God. And obviously, if he wanted to call the hospital, it was up to him and we gave that option to him so it was his choice to trust in God,” said Shawn Sprout.

Sprout said he believes Austin passed away because it was God’s will.

“It’s what we live for. We live to die so we can go to heaven.”

Many people with extremist views on faith healing consider asking for and accepting professional medical services an act on unbelief.

ABC News affiliate KEZI reports that friends and family members of the Bellew filled the county jail Monday, many expressing outrage at the couple’s arrest.

“We’re sad, angry, all of the above. Obviously, this is how we believe and everybody has the right to believe what they want, so I don’t know why they are trying to make an example out of us,” said Shawn Sprout, Austin Sprout’s uncle.

Fellow church member Lonnie Ham said, “”The Bellews are good people and it would take some time to explain our faith, but we have freedom of religion here in the US. Supposedly this law is against that.”

Indeed last year the State of Oregon adopted a law that eliminated the legal defense of faith healing.

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.

KEZI asked two faith leader for their response to the case:

I really value the personal freedom to have faith and practice your faith to the n-th degree. Now, if someone dies and is harmed as a result of that, then I think okay, that ought to be looked at,” said Eugene Faith Center Executive Pastor Jim Thomas.
“Sometimes our belief has to be put aside and we have to deal with the situation and protect another, and especially the most vulnerable,” said Rabbi Chezky Altein of Chabad Jewish Center of Eugene.

Sprout’s cause of death has not yet been revealed, but the local Sheriff has said that medical professionals indicated the condition was highly treatable.

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

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 15, 2012.
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