Faith-Healing Trials to Take Center Stage In Oregon

January 8, 2009

Author: Rick Bella

Source: Religion News Service

Two high-profile deaths from 2008 will land in the courts in 2009 when the Oregon justice system determines whether members of an Oregon City faith-healing church acted criminally in the deaths of two children who were denied medical treatment.

The trials, in Clackamas County Circuit Court, could lead to the first legal tests of a 1999 state law disallowing faith-healing at the expense of a child's life.

What's more, the almost-certain appeals in the cases may ask the courts to redefine the balance between freedom of religion and parents' legal responsibilities for the health and safety of minors.

The first trial, set for Jan. 26, will weigh manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges against Carl Brent Worthington, 38, and his wife, Raylene Marie Worthington, 26, in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava. The girl died last March of bronchial pneumonia and blood infections after she was denied conventional medical care.

In the second trial, set for June 23, Raylene Worthington's parents, Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and his wife, Marci Rae Beagley, 47, of Oregon City will face charges of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old son, Neil. The boy died in June of heart failure triggered by a urinary tract blockage.

In both deaths, state medical examiners said both children could have been treated with routine medical procedures or medicine.

The common thread in both cases is the Followers of Christ Church, a fundamentalist sect that bans medical attention for congregation members, instead relying on prayer vigils and the "laying on of hands."