Prosecutors in Canada's Alberta province have charged a faith-healing couple in the death of their son because they failed to seek medical help, citing their religious objections to doctors.
The parents, Steve Paul Shippy, 44, and Ruth Anne Shippy, 37, are members of the Followers of Christ Church, said Crown Prosecutor Ian Frazer of Wetaskiwin, 50 miles south of Edmonton.
The Followers of Christ is a fundamentalist sect whose members put all their faith in the healing power of God, professing to refuse medical care to the point of death. There are Followers churches in Oregon City; Caldwell, Idaho; and Fairview, Okla., to name a few cities.
The Shippys, who live in the rural community of Rimbey, face charges of criminal negligence resulting in death and failing to provide the necessities of life for the Dec. 28, 1998, death of their son, Callahan Douglas Shippy, 14. A medical examiner ruled that the boy died of complications from diabetes, and other medical experts say the boy languished in ill health for two to four weeks before he died, Frazer said. Frazer said the Shippys have loose ties to a Followers congregation in Idaho and once lived there for several years beginning in 1984 after Canadian child welfare officials began investigating an injury to one of their children that went untreated.
Faith healing made headlines in Oregon in 1998 after the deaths of three children in the Oregon City congregation from medical complications. In each, the parents took no steps to save the children beyond their prayers and other religious rituals.
An investigation by The Oregonian found that the Oregon City church had amassed one of the largest clusters of child deaths recorded among the nation's faith-healing churches.
The 1998 deaths sparked debate among police, prosecutors and lawmakers when Clackamas County District Attorney Terry Gustafson refused to prosecute the cases. She said doing so would have violated the parents' constitutional right to due process, citing religious immunity in the state's homicide statute.
The Oregon Legislature this year revised the law to require faith-healing parents to seek medical care for their sick or injured children or risk prosecution.
Although Canadian law recognizes religion in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there are no provisions protecting the specific religious rights of its citizens to the point they override the right to life of another person, Frazer said.
Frazer said the Shippys knew the consequences of not seeking medical help for their son, given their flight to Idaho in 1984 and the prosecution in 1986 of another faith-healing couple in the area whose daughter died of pneumonia.
The Shippys could not be reached for comment. They have no lawyer representing them, Frazer said.