Saturday, July 25, 2009

Faith, Ignorance and Death

Carl and Raylene Worthington of Oregon City, members of the Followers of Christ church, stood by and watched their 15 month old daughter Ava die from multiple causes culminating in pneumonia and a blood infection, both treatable conditions. Why did they do this? As they stated repeatedly in court, they do not "believe" in doctors or modern medicine.

Their recent trial for manslaughter took place in Oregon City. They were acquited of the manslaughter charges by the jury. The only conviction was for Carl for a misdemeanor charge of criminal mistreatment. One of the jurors has subsequently stated that he would certainly have voted for conviction if only he had known the history of the church including the deaths of 18 children since 1991. These victims of medical neglect are all buried together in the Oregon City cemetery.

In court the defense claimed that the parents were surprised by the child's death because they thought she only had a minor cold. Doctors testifying for the prosecution stated that medical evidence showed that the child was poorly developed for her age, lagging in most growth and development benchmarks. At the time of her death she suffered from a very large growth on her throat which impeded her ability to breath and swallow properly. When police and medical teams arrived at the Worhington's home they had to move a large number of people out of the child's room and the house. The members of the church had gathered to pray, annoint the child with oil and perform rituals to save her life. They did not take action even when little Ava ceased breathing. They did not call 911. Does the entire congregation gather to "annoint" the ill for a common cold? How in good conscience can they claim that the death was a surprise? How can this happen?

Afterwards jurors stated that they were swayed by empathy for the Worthingtons who thought they were doing the "right thing" for their daughter. To my mind this calls into question the wisdom of a jury system to rule on an emotional issue like this. They clearly did not apply the law to the facts of the case but were swayed by emotional arguments alone.

I am apalled by the sheer arrogance and disregard for human life displayed by the Worthingtons and their fellow church members. President Fred Smith, a seventh-generation member of the church, testified in a January court hearing that members adhere to biblical teachings and traditions passed down through families. There are no written policies or guidelines on faith healing or other practices, he said. The church has no pastor or leadership. They are in fact a dangerous cult following beliefs based on charismatic pentecostal thinking of the 19th century. Please let me remind you that antibiotics had yet to be discovered in the 19th century.

Our criminal justice system failed us on this one. I can only hope that the Followers of Christ who have now stood by and watched a minimum of 18 children die will themselves succumb to treatable illness and suffer as have their children.

The citizens of of Oregon City have another chance to get one right. Raylene Worthington's parents, Jeff and Marci Beagley, go on trial in January. They are charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old, Neil Beagley, who died last June of an untreated urinary tract blockage. Apparently young Neil had suffered on and off for years with easily treatable urinary tract infections, but never received any medical treatment. Once again the Followers of Christ stood by and watched him die in agony.

Shame on everyone involved in the terrible history! I cannot fully express my outrage at this ongoing tragedy. Ruled by ignorance and the tyranny of religious dogma the trail of suffering and death continues... This is the saddest thing I have ever written.

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