Faith-Healing Parents in Oregon Charged With Death of Daughter

ht_faith_healing_080329_ms.jpg Parents of a 15-month-old baby have been criminally charged in her death after they allegedly refused to get medical assistance due to their faith-healing religions. Carl Worthington, 28, and Raylene Worthington, 25, have been charged in the death of their daughter, Ava, on March 2. It is only the latest of a litany of such disturbing cases.

Ava’s condition (bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection) could have been easily treated with simple antibiotics. However, the Worthingtons were members of the Followers of Christ Church, which pray and anoint sick members with oil — rather than seek medical assistance. Most disturbing is that dozens of children have been reportedly found in the local parish cemetery with such preventable deaths.

As noted here, this is only the latest such case. The first amendment protection afforded to free exercise reaches its limit with the failure to give life-sustaining medical assistance to a child.

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31 thoughts on “Faith-Healing Parents in Oregon Charged With Death of Daughter”

  1. I knew a guy who went to a famous faiyh healer in Akron,Ohio,week after week for years.He died of the cancer that the healer could not heal.I saw another woman die,because she would not have the surgery needed to save her life.She was caught up in one of those “healing crusades” like they are having in Florida.People said it was God’s will for her to die.I know it was insanity for her to die thay way.

  2. mespo,

    I had not thought of looking at the legislative and executive branch this way, but certainly it makes sense. I am still left wondering why people in these branches and elsewhere don’t seem to consider deeper remedies to social problems. What you wrote also makes me wonder if there is a structural problem with the system we have set up. Maybe that structure does stand in the way. I really don’t know and would be glad to hear further thoughts on this. Thanks for your input as always!


  3. Jill:

    Unlike the Courts who rule ex post facto, the legislative and executive branches are supposed to act ex ante, or “from before” the fact. The system is is set up fine, its just the actors who can’t seem to figure it out.

  4. I was wondering about taking action against the church as well. In many cases religious belief has only an ancillary meaning to the most powerful members of a religious organization. They want absolute power and use belief systems of one kind or another to exercise that power. If you look at the sex abuse cases in the catholic and mormon churches and also those involving several buddhist temples, in each case, the sex abuse was known and kept hidden by the religious’ hierarchy. They know what they’re doing is wrong and they have every intention of protecting that wrongdoing from ever coming to light. Perhaps this is the case here.

    I’ve also been thinking that our society just does not grapple with the underlying problems this and other cases bring to light. The court system can only deal with actions after the fact. It is mostly inadequate to this task as others have pointed out in their posts. There has to be a better way.

  5. Mespo,
    Interesting formulation. Perhaps a tort case would be an appropriate venue for an action. It would be difficult to prove in that some malicious intent would need to be shown. Perhaps the old “reasonable man”standard would apply. It’s been many years since I was in law school and that didn’t end felicitously, thank God because the law wasn’t suited for my temperament. I did have the privilege though of taking Mario Cuoumo for Criminal Procedure, he was brilliant and kind. Anyway I see by my beginning to ramble I’ve past my bedtime. Today’s conversation has been a pleasure.

  6. Michael:

    Punishment is an archaic concept since it implies we have some way to change behavior with it otherwise it is cruelty. As decades of psychological studies have shown, we have only limited ability to alter behavior with this method and it needs some updating.

    On the more salient issue involving vicarious liability for churches who preach ignorance, I would like to ruminate on that for a while. Why should they be immune? We know they cannot advocate marijuana use for religious purposes, though a case involving that issue for the Ethiopian Coptic Church,Olsen v. Mukasey, No. 07-3062, has been scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Friday, April 18, 2008, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit for argument.

    I certainly think an argument can be made that preaching absurd practices which foreseeably could bring about harm to the congregation could be actionable. I want to think more about this however in the context of First Amendment protections. We do know the right to practice one’s religion is not absolute, but what about the negligent preaching of a minster. How protected is that? Maybe JT could helps us here if he be so inclined?

  7. Mespo & Susan,
    Their actions were criminally stupid, but unless other facts come to light, not malicious. Community service might be a good option. This raises though another question that I’ve pondered for years and that is the limited range of options allowed by our criminal system. The concept of punishment for crimes is in some instances archaic and others instances cruel. Yes murderers and violent felons need to be jailed, sometimes for life, but in many other cases like drug possession jail is inappropriate and wasteful.

    The Pastor of their church and the Church itself bears responsibility too and this touches on the discussion further above and some of DW’s comments. What do we do about the pernicious use of religion to either spread ignorance, stifle dissent, or even to lead a young (admittedly stupid couple)to believe prayer alone will save their child? What today’s religious right doesn’t get is that the constitutional separation of church and state protects religious freedom for them. I know that they piss me off enough to want to see some crackdown on their excesses and yet I believe in the constitution and free speech.

  8. Michael & Susan:

    Based on what I know (and that is of course limited) and assuming no malicious intent, I think incarceration is probably not in order since any deterrent effect is now spent. Punishment seems already pronounced by natural process. I would recommend 200 hours of community service in the local children’s hospital.

  9. Michael,

    I agree that criminal charges are appropriate in this case; however, I’m not sure how harsh they are in fact, or what they should be. I agree with JT that religion shouldn’t be used as a shield for parents who fail to seek REAL medical treatment for their children. These parents need to held accountable with some kind of criminal penalty, however, but that will be up to the local prosecutor to decide.

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