Oregon strips faith-healing parents of legal defenses

June 17, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Gov. John Kitzhaber has signed a new law that
removes the remnants of Oregon's legal protection for parents who rely
solely on faith healing instead of traditional medical care for their
children.

Kitzhaber signed the bill without comment on June 9, two days after
jurors found Timothy and Rebecca Wyland guilty of criminal mistreatment
for not seeking medical treatment for a massive growth that left their
infant daughter nearly blind.

The Wylands are members of the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City
church with a long history of children dying from treatable medical
conditions. They are the third couple from the church to face
prosecution in the last two years.

The bill, which passed with overwhelming support in the legislature,
eliminates spiritual treatment as a defense against all homicide
charges, and subjects parents to mandatory sentencing if convicted.

"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."

Followers of Christ 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.

In 1999, lawmakers eliminated the spiritual healing defense against
lesser charges of second-degree manslaughter and first- and
second-degree criminal mistreatment.

"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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