The Oregon Faith Report - Faith News from Oregon

Details emerge over faith-healing death of child

October 7, 2009

By Traci Scott,

Mothers and their newborns in an Oregon City church that practices faith healing routinely died during, before or shortly after birth because medical help was not sought.  The latest case was that of an infant boy who recently died due to the refusal of medical treatment by his parents.  This incident has brought to light the conflict over faith healing and the rights of children

According to KATU News, the mother, who is a member of the Followers of Christ church, allegedly had complications before giving birth. Church members prayed over her on a Friday night, and the baby was born Saturday afternoon. But it died early Sunday morning.  The infant may have been premature.

Dr. Larry Lewman, from the state medical examiner’s office, told KATU News of similar cases last year after 15-month-old Ava Worthington died. Her parents were arrested and her father Carl Worthington served 60 days in jail as a result of his conviction.  Her mother, Raylene, was acquitted of a mistreatment charge.

Lewman also studied the church in the late 1990s when three children died in a short amount of time.  “There were also during that period – it wasn’t publicized much – four perfectly healthy mothers, pregnant, who died during child birth from puerperal sepsis. That’s an infection that doesn’t even occur today,” Lewman told KATU News. “You read about it in the textbooks from the 1910s – the pre-antibiotic era. None of these women should have died – three of their children died. It was all perfectly treatable, and they literally suffered for days.”

According to, there are several other churches that have made headlines for their faith healing practices.  The most notable is the Christian Science Church, where parents are unwilling to seek medical help for their children who have diseases or disorders that can be cured or overcome through modern medicine and medical care.

The Bible Reader Fellowship evangelical group, located in California, avoids medical treatment and fails to record births and deaths as required by law.  And members of End Time Ministries have exclusive belief in faith healing.  Not only do they reject medical treatment for children, but they also require unattended childbirth.

The right to refuse medical treatment based on religious grounds is recognized in most societies. However, many have questioned whether this right can be taken too far. Should religious beliefs replace or override medical procedures if the result may be the death of the individual? And more importantly, should a parent be allowed to obstruct traditional medical care when the health and well-being of a child is at stake?

U.S. citizens are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits any action by the U.S. Government that restricts “the free exercise of religion”.

When faced with a medical problem, an adult has several options, including seeking medical care, using faith healing in conjunction with medical care or pursuing no medical treatment at all.

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Discuss this article

LaRayne October 7, 2009

Wow! This is one that I strugle with.

Robert October 7, 2009

It does bother me to see children dying due to a lack of medical attention.

Eli October 7, 2009

Whatever happened to common sense?

Dan October 7, 2009

Seems as though God is making His opinion of these movements fairly evident too.

Rita Swan October 8, 2009

Christian Science lobbyists got Oregon to enact a tremendous number of religious exemptions to criminal conduct, including exemptions to homicide by abuse or neglect, manslaughter, criminal mistreatment, and criminal non-support.

What kind of people need a religious exemption to homicide and why would any legislators support it?

In 1999 our organization, Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, and many Oregon organizations worked for repeal of 9 exemptions. The legislature ultimately repealed 5.

Faith and needless death October 8, 2009

[…] Details emerge over faith-healing death of child […]

kelly October 10, 2009

Our legislators need to stop pandering to these fanatics. Study after study has shown that intercessory prayer does not help and in fact, can make things worse. Even the Catholic Church has said that this kind of thing violates to tenets of free will. Why do people keep turning to this kind of superstitious nonsense?

John D. Clague October 16, 2009

There is clearly a misconception about Christian Science that needs to be corrected. There is nothing in the teachings of Christian Science or the policies of the church that precludes parents from seeking medical care for their children. In fact, I personally know of Christian Science parents who have sought medical care for their children when the circumstances dictated that would be a wise choice. And I personally know of wonderful healings involving children in Christian Science, including my own children who are now healthy, happy, and productive adults.

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