Another Oregon child has died because her parents had the perverse notion that God wanted it that way.
Even though God also apparently wanted to make it possible for doctors to save the baby’s life, had only the parents asked for their help.
We hadn’t heard anything in the past few years from the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City.
And we were thankful for the silence, because the history of this church is a terrible litany of children dying who shouldn’t have. The church’s followers, some of whom live in Idaho, believe that faith will heal all problems and that if a person dies, that is God’s will. An analysis by The Oregonian found that at least 21 children who died from 1955 to 1998 could have been saved by doctors.
In 2011 the Oregon Legislature passed a bill that prevents parents who withhold medical treatment for their children from using “faith healing” as a defense if the parents are charged with a crime. That year, an Oregon couple who were members of the church were convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 16 months in prison after their 15-year-old son died of a urinary tract blockage that could have been easily and effectively treated.
Another couple from the church were sentenced that year to more than six years in prison on a manslaughter conviction after their son, who was born prematurely, died from medical problems that also were treatable.
That case is depressingly similar to what happened earlier this month in Oregon City. On March 5 Sarah Mitchell, a Follower of Christ member, gave birth to twin girls who were born prematurely. The girls were born at their grandparents’ home. No doctors were present, and the mother had not had prenatal care.
One of the twins, Gennifer, died.
When a deputy medical examiner responded to a call about Gennifer’s death, he noticed that the surviving twin, Evelyn, was also struggling to breath. The medical examiner persuaded the twins’ parents, Sarah and Travis, to seek medical treatment. Evelyn is doing well at Oregon Health & Science University, said Dr. Karen Gunson, Oregon’s chief medical examiner.
Gunson said that although she can’t say with certainty that Gennifer also would have survived had she been given medical care, Evelyn’s survival strongly suggests that both babies could have lived.
The twins’ parents haven’t been charged, but police are investigating. We hope the parents are charged, and punished just as other church members were in 2011.
The parents are free to practice their religion, of course. But that’s an individual freedom, and it does not supersede the right of an innocent and helpless child to have life-saving medical care.