Feature

Can faith healing kill?

An Oregonian couple whose 18-month-old daughter died after they treated her with prayer instead of antibiotics deserve to be put on trial, said Arthur Caplan on MSNBC.com. This will be an important test case in Oregon's removal of religious shield laws fo

What happenedOregon parents who tried to heal their mortally ill 15-month-old daughter with prayer pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges on Tuesday. Carl Brent Worthington, 28, and Raylene Marie Worthington, 25, were arrested after doctors told prosecutors that their daughter, Ava, died from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been treated with antiobiotics. (The Oregonian online)

What the commentators saidThe Worthingtons clearly deserve to be put on trial, said Arthur Caplan on MSNBC.com. Parents have a right to their beliefs, but they “do not have the right to watch a child wither away while they pray.” Even if the Worthingtons never spend a day in jail, “we need to send the right message to parents—you can rely on prayer, but not when your child’s life clearly hangs in the balance.”

This will be a closely watched test case, said Jessica Bruder in The Oregonian. The state’s lawmakers removed religious shield laws for parents who treat gravely ill children solely with prayer after members of the Worthingtons’ church—the Followers of Christ—lost several children in the late 1990s to treatable diseases. The parents in another recent case—an 11-year-old Wisconsin girl died from an undiagnosed diabetic attack after her parents tried to heal her with prayer—have not been charged.

Faith-healing deaths aren’t as uncommon as many people think, said legal expert Jonathan Turley on his blog. Ava Worthington’s death was “only the latest of a litany of such disturbing cases.” Dozens of children in the Followers of Christ Church wouldn't be in the cemetery if their parents had done more than pray and anoint them with oil.

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