Psychiatrist Criticizes Faith Healing Texan Speaks After Death Of Teen-Ager in Western Slope Sect

Denver Rocky Mountain News/February 14, 2001

While Mesa County sheriff's investigators focused Tuesday on whether a 13-year-old girl was denied medical treatment because of her family's religious beliefs and died, a nationally known child psychiatrist was calling for an end to "faith healing" exemptions in child abuse laws. "I believe the same standard of care for children should apply regardless of your beliefs," said Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.

Perry was in Grand Junction at the invitation of the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Tuesday, he lectured to about 700 child psychologists, caseworkers, volunteers and parents. Perry said the problem of accommodating religious beliefs in state law is that there is no generally accepted way to raise children. "It's very hard to have laws about children when we don't have the same community standards," he said, pointing to continuing disagreements over spanking and breast-feeding as examples.

The issue of faith healing was sparked by the death of Amanda Bates, who died Feb. 6. On Monday, Dr. Robert Kurtzman, Mesa County coroner, ruled the death a homicide, saying that Bates' death from complications of diabetes was a consequence of medical care being withheld from the teen-ager. The girl's parents, Colleen and Randy Bates, are members of the General Assembly and Church of the First Born, a small, close-knit sect that shuns medical treatment, trusting instead in the power of prayer.

State statutes exempt parents who treat their children by spiritual means from liability under child abuse laws. The Bateses lost a child three years ago, Kurtzman said, when the 3-month-old died of sudden infant death syndrome.

This week, Mesa County social service workers were in the process of checking the conditions of the family's 11 surviving children, four of whom are being treated for strep throat. Perry said children who grow up in isolated environments such as those that some religious groups create are particularly at risk because of their isolation. "In these environments, the parents care very much about their kids," Perry said. "They educate them, they limit their TV. They do lots of good things. But without outside experience, when they don't expose their children to a variety of things, they often teach distorted views that can be destructive. "Isolation, I believe, is not good for kids."

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