Grand Junction - An autopsy Wednesday determined that 13-year-old Amanda Bates, the daughter of members of a church that believes in prayer rather than medicine to heal the sick, died Monday of complications from untreated diabetes. Her death came days before state legislators will discuss a change in law that would make it easier to prosecute adults who withhold treatment from minors for religious reasons.
Authorities are trying to determine if Amanda's parents, Colleen and Randy Bates, and elders of the General Assembly Church of the First Born knew that Amanda's illness was life-threatening. That will be key to deciding whether the parents, and possibly other church elders who had been gathering at the Bates home to pray for her and anoint her with oil before her death, will be prosecuted.
Amanda, one of 12 Bates children, died just days after Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose, introduced legislation that would change the law governing prosecution of parents and other adults who knowingly withhold medical treatment from gravely ill minors for religious reasons.
The proposal, scheduled to be heard in committee next week, would remove an exemption for Christian Scientists - an exemption that has muddied the law and made prosecution in Colorado difficult. That exemption allows parents to use faith-healing treatments on their children rather than seeking medical care as long as the faith-healing treatments are recognized as legitimate by the Internal Revenue Service and insurance companies. Christian Science prayer falls into that category.
Other faith-healing methods, such as the prayers and anointing practiced by the Church of the First Born, do not. The law, which was sponsored by Gov. Bill Owens when he was a state senator in 1989, is considered flawed because it gave an unfair advantage to one religious group. "Without the exemption, all children will be treated the same. In my opinion this is the right way to do this," said Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels. "I think it will save lives. I can't prove it, but I think this exemption has cost lives in Colorado." Church members and the parents did not return phone calls.
Since the mid-1970s in Colorado, 11 children of Church of the First Born parents have died or were stillborn after medical treatment was withheld. Only two sets of parents have been prosecuted.
Amanda Bates died Monday afternoon at Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver. She had been flown there after being taken by ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction early Monday morning. Someone at the Bates home in Clifton had called 911 to report an unattended death.
Janet Prell, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said that when paramedics arrived shortly after 8 a.m., Amanda was not breathing. They were able to revive her enough to keep her alive with artificial support until Monday evening. Amanda's body was returned to Grand Junction late Tuesday, and an autopsy was performed by Mesa County coroner and forensic pathologist Dr. Rob Kurtzman on Wednesday. Kurtzman determined the cause of Amanda's death but said it may be several days before he determines the manner of her death, which could include homicide.
Meanwhile, investigators with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office are sifting through evidence, as they have done twice before in less than two years in cases in which Church of the First Born children died in Mesa County without receiving medical care. "We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of people to interview," said sheriff's investigator George Barley, who has worked on all three cases.
In February 1999, 18-day-old Warren Trevette Glory of Grand Junction died of meningitis and pneumonia. His parents, Joshua and Mindy Glory, were prosecuted for child abuse resulting in death. They were sentenced to probation and ordered to provide medical care for their surviving child.
In July 2000, 3-day-old Billy Ray Reed of Grand Junction died of a common congenital heart defect. His parents, Billy and Barbara Reed, were not charged because there was no proof they would have recognized the severity of his condition. In that case, the other children were removed from the home because of concern for their welfare The other children of Colleen Bates, 36, and Randy Bates, 38, are being allowed to remain in their home, a small brown house tucked off a main road behind a ramshackle trailer and a weedy lot spotted with rusted cars and junk.
Colleen Bates is pregnant with a 13th child, authorities said. "We did not feel the other children are in immediate danger," said Tom Papin, director of the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Side Bars:
Known deaths of First Born children in Colorado after medical treatment was withheld:
? 1974: Christy Sitton, age unknown, of Cortez died of diphtheria.
? 1976: Brian Sproul, age unknown, of Cortez died of diphtheria.
? 1982: 14-year-old Travis Drake of Grand Junction died several days after his appendix ruptured.
? 1987: Newborn Lucas Long of Delta died hours after his breech birth.
? 1990: 7-year-old Angela Sweet of Olathe died after a 2month-long case of appendicitis.
? 1997: 10-month-old Kyra Wright of Cortez died of viral pneumonia.
? 1998: 10-day-old Keenan Littlefield of Cortez died from a bowel obstruction.
? 1999: 18-day-old Warren Trevette Glory of Grand Junction died of pneumonia and meningitis.
? 2000: 3-day-old Billy Ray Reed of Grand Junction died of a common heart defect.
? 2000: Ishmael Berger Belebbas of Olathe was born dead after becoming stuck for several days in his mother's birth canal.
? 2001: 13-year-old Amanda Bates of Grand Junction died of what was believed to be complications from diabetes and an infected kidney.
Is one of you ill? He should send for the elders of the congregation to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered in faith will save the sick man, the Lord will raise him from his bed, any sins he may have committed will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and then you will be healed. When a member of the church is sick, the elders are called to the home to pray over that person. They lay their hands on the sick person and anoint that person with olive oil.
If the sick person dies, they believe it is God's will. The dead are believed to be "asleep" until Judgment Day, when they will awaken and join the Lord and their families in heaven. Members eschew all modern medicines, including aspirin, but some use herbal remedies. Some wear eyeglasses and hearing aids. If members do seek other medical care, they are not excommunicated from the church, but they are urged to repent. When members are forced to get medical care, such as inoculations in the military, they say that, through their prayers, they turn medications into water.
The Church of the First Born has about 285 families in six congregations in Colorado. The largest congregations are in Delta, Grand Junction and Palisade. Others are in Olathe, Cortez and Denver. The church has no paid clergy. Congregation-led services are twice weekly and include singing and impromptu speaking by members. Members sometimes speak in tongues, wash each other's feet on special occasions and greet each other with a "holy kiss" on the lips.
Women cannot cut their hair and are encouraged to stay home and produce and raise children. Members keep to themselves and often live and work in close proximity to one another and to their rural churches.