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Kitzhaber Signs Bill To Eliminate Religious Defense For Faith-Healing Parents June 17, 2011

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

When Gov. John Kitzhaber signed House Bill 2721 into law last week, he removed the remnants of Oregon’s legal protection for parents who rely solely on faith healing to meet their children’s medical needs.

The bill was a response to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church with a long history of children dying from treatable medical conditions. It eliminates spiritual treatment as a defense against all homicide charges and subject parents to mandatory sentencing under Oregon’s Measure 11.

The new measures took effect when Kitzhaber signed the bill on June 9. He had no comment on the legislation, which passed the House and Senate with little opposition.

“This is as far as the state can go,” said Rita Swan of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, a group focused on child abuse and neglect among faith healers. “It’s not a perfect solution. Prosecution is our last resort,” said Swan, who moved from her home in Iowa to Oregon so she could lobby for the bill.

Followers of Christ church representatives declined to comment on the changes to the law. The church has no pastor or leader, and church members rarely speak to the media.

“This bill will help (influence) the fence sitters,” Swan said.

Kitzhaber signed the bill two days after a Clackamas County jury found Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, members of Followers of Christ, guilty of criminal mistreatment for failing to get medical attention for their infant daughter. The girl suffered damage to her left eye because the Wylands treated her with faith-healing rituals for months as her condition worsened. The Wylands will be sentenced next week.

Two other church members, Dale and Shannon Hickman, go to trial in September. They are charged with second-degree manslaughter for failing to seek medical help for their newborn son, who was born several weeks prematurely and lived nine hours.

It is the second time in recent years that legislators revised the faith-healing defense.

In 1999, The Oregonian documented dozens of cases of Followers of Christ children dying from curable medical conditions.

Oregon lawmakers responded with a proposal to eliminate the use of religious belief as a criminal defense. The 1999 bill faced opposition from Christian Scientists and mixed support from lawmakers. Nevertheless, the Legislature eliminated the spiritual healing defense against charges of second-degree manslaughter and first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment.

Two recent criminal cases involving the 2008 deaths of two Followers’ children — a 16-month-old girl and a 16-year-old boy with easily curable medical problems — led lawmakers to eliminate all the faith-healing provisions.

“We appreciate the Legislature’s support. This will help us continue to protect children from medical neglect,” said Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote, who lobbied for the bill. “This is good for kids in Oregon.”



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