Faith-Healing Parents Charged in Baby’s Death
Doctors say Toddler’s Death Could Have Been Prevented With Antibiotics
March 29, 2008
A Clackamas County, Ore., couple are facing second degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges after their 15-month-old daughter died from what the state medical examiner said were easily cured illnesses.
The infant girl, Ava Worthington, died March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and an infection, both of which could have been cured with common antibiotics, the medical examiner said.
But police say that instead of going to a doctor, 28-year-old Carl Worthington and his wife, Raylene, 25, opted to pray for their daughter.
The two surrendered to police at Calackamas County Jail Friday night. Bail was set at $250,000 apiece, and they were released hours later after each posted $25,000 bond, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Det. Jim Strovink said.
They are scheduled to appear in Clackamas County Circuit Court on Monday.
A reporter from ABC News affiliate KATU-TV in Portland, Ore., went to the Worthington’s home before they turned themselves in, but the couple declined to comment.
The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, that has a history of shunning medical care in favor of faith healing.
A decade ago the church received national attention after KATU reported that the state medical examiner believed approximately 20 children whose parents belonged to the church, had died from untreated illnesses that were curable.
After that story broke, the Oregon state legislature changed the law to bar defendants, in most cases, from claiming their religious beliefs prevented them from seeking medical help.
“Ten years ago I couldn’t express my feelings for what was going on out there, but I can now,” said Mark Hass, who as a KATU reporter worked on the story and is now a state senator. “This is child abuse. Pure and simple. There is no other way to say it.”
Though the revised law removed the so-called “spiritual-healing defense,” there is still a provision that allows judges to give parents a lighter sentence based on their beliefs.
Some veteran lawmakers who were in the legislature for that bitter fight a decade ago say that this case could be the first test of that law.
“This is the first time that they could be taking a shot at interpreting the law,” state Senate President Peter Courtney told The Oregonian newspaper.
Earlier this week authorities in Wisconsin said they were considering filing charges in the case of an 11-year-old girl who died on Easter Sunday of complications from diabetes that went untreated because police say her parents’ religious beliefs do not allow medical intervention. The girl, Madeline Kara Neumann, who went by the name Kara and was the youngest child of Leilani and Dale Neumann, died Sunday of “diabetic ketoacidosis,” according to a Marathon County autopsy report. The girl’s diabetes had never been diagnosed, officials say.
Dean Schabner contributed to this report.