Oregon Senate Votes to Get Rid of ‘Faith-Healing’ Exemption in Law

Back in March, the Oregon House of Representatives voted (unanimously, 59-0) to remove “faith healing” exemptions from the law.

That meant if parents decided not to take their sick child to a doctor because they wanted to pray for the child’s health instead — and the child died as a result — the parents could not cite their faith as a reason to escape from jail time. The “We’re not killers! We’re just religious!” defense would no longer hold up in court.

The House did away with that exemption in HB 2721. I’m happy to say that the Senate has finally joined them!

The Senate voted 25-5 to approve the measure. It was drafted largely in response to the 2008 deaths of children among members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, who rely on spiritual treatments instead of medical care.

Under the measure, prosecutors can seek first-degree manslaughter or murder charges against parents whose children died because they were treated solely with faith.

Minimum penalties for certain cases considered murders would go from 120 to 300 months in prison and cost an additional $21.88 per day for a temporary prison bed, according to the fiscal impact report.

This won’t bring back Neil Beagley, whose parents let him die of “an inflammation of his urethra because they figured a god would cure him,” or Ava Worthington, the 15-month-old whose parents let her die from the flu while they prayed around her and refused to take her to a doctor. This won’t heal the eye of Alayna May Wyland, whose parents prayed instead of treating her hemangioma, possibly causing her to lose her vision.

But at least their suffering won’t have been in vain.

The Senate added one provision to the bill (PDF):

This 2011 Act being necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is declared to exist, and this 2011 Act takes effect on its passage.

In English: The bill will now go back to the House. If the changes are approved, the new law will go into effect immediately.

(Thanks to Sean for the link!)

  • Tom

    Hooray for the law-makers! (Did I just say that!? *falls over*)

  • Brian

    If this is a double post, sorry.

    Are U.S. kids the property of their parents, or not?

    Parents decide their kids’ educations, and idiot parents indoctrinate their kids with their idiot religions.

  • Matt H

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. On a personal level, I abhor what the parents are doing (or rather, not doing). On the other hand, I’m worried about trampling on their beliefs (as dumb as they are). The problem is that an adult of their religion can rightfully decide not to seek medical care. That’s their full right. Children aren’t old enough yet to make such decisions for themselves. I understand this will save children, but I’m still a bit conflicted.

  • Jake

    This is fantastic and that’s all there is to it.

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating: the US legal system does not behave as though religious claims are true. This bill is a good example of that.

    Let’s say that a child has the flu, and her doctor recommends an antiviral drug. The parents ignore the doctor and give her immune system boosters and vitamins instead. Tragically, the child dies. Depending on the circumstances, the parents could be sued, perhaps for practicing medicine without a license, or not doing due diligence. But at the end of the day, the parents used a plausible remedy, and tragically it didn’t work.

    In the cases listed above, however, the “remedy” used by the parents was prayer, and the underlying assumption in the law that this bill amends is that prayer is not an effective medical procedure.

    In other words, when parents are sued for praying instead of treating their children, the charge is not “you chose among two valid treatments, and chose poorly”. It’s “your child was sick, and you did nothing”.

    Matt H: the above is also my reply to you. I don’t really care that much what adults do to themselves because of their beliefs, but children shouldn’t have to suffer as a result.

  • Steve

    This isn’t trampling on anyone’s beliefs. They can believe what they want. But that doesn’t give them the right to harm others in the process. Rights have their limits. And those limits are generally where they infringe on the rights of other people. In that case, you need to weigh those rights against each other. And this one is very obvious: the right to life trumps the right to believe any time

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Good news. They retain their right to believe in their deity and their right to express that belief. Those rights do not entitle someone to harm or neglect another person. It makes sense.

  • Matt H

    I suppose there have to be limits where government trumps religious beliefs. One could believe murder is virtuous, but that won’t excuse you from being prosecuted. So “right to life trumps the right to believe” in the government is a reasonable argument to me.

  • Freemage

    I’m going to be a bit indelicate and pet my peeve in public, here:

    But at least their suffering won’t have been in vain.

    I hate, hate, HATE that phrase in situations like this. It’s appropriate for someone who chooses to take on an arduous struggle for a noble cause–they chose their fate (or at least the actions that led to their fate), and it’s reassuring to know that such decisions can pay off.

    But in situations like this, where the person doing the suffering had no choice, no decision, no power to choose their fate, it is little more than a more secular version of “God’s Plan”–ie, the notion that the suffering in the world is there just to serve a higher purpose.

    Now, I know you more likely meant, “At least their suffering ultimately led to some good,” but even that’s fairly weaksauce–the only reason this particular ‘good’ was needed was because of their suffering, and those of others in simiular situations, in the first place.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    @freemage — I’m greatly enjoying your beautiful turn of phrase, “pet my peeve in public”.

    Mind if I steal it?

    Also, ITA, about That One Phrase you mentioned. These children shouldn’t have had to suffer at all.

  • Brian

    There’s a word for people who seek out healing by faith: dead.

  • Dark Jaguar

    Freemage, that wording bothered me too but I couldn’t put into words why until you said this:

    “the only reason this particular ‘good’ was needed was because of their suffering, and those of others in simiular situations, in the first place”

    Yes! Thank you. Let’s save the “didn’t die in vain” for those fellows who dive onto a grenade to save their platoon shall we?


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