Pair acquitted of crime in faith-healing death

The couple, who believe God can heal the sick, are convicted of not giving basic necessities to their sick son

The Oregonian, June 8, 2000

A Canadian couple who belong to an Oregon-based church that believes God can heal the sick received a mixed court victory Wednesday in the case of their 14-year-old son who died of complications from diabetes.

Steven and Ruth Shippy failed to seek medical treatment for their son Calahan, who died at home Dec. 30, 1998. The couple are followers of the Oregon City-based Followers of Christ Church, which has been involved in similar cases in Oregon.

In a courtroom in Red Deer, Alberta, on Wednesday, the Shippys were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life but acquitted of criminal negligence.

They will be sentenced June 26, but the couple probably will not serve any jail time.

After the verdict, the boy's father said he believes he has the right not to seek medical help for his eight children. "I wouldn't change a thing," Steven Shippy said.

He added that he thinks Calahan would have died even if they had taken him to a hospital. "I believe that God takes someone for a purpose," he said. The Followers of Christ Church is a fundamentalist Christian denomination that came to Oregon early in the 20th century. When members become gravely ill, fellow worshippers pray and anoint them with oil. Those who seek modern medical remedies are ostracized by the group.

A June 1998 investigation by The Oregonian found that of the 78 children buried in the church's cemetery since 1955, 21 died from treatable diseases. The group came under intense scrutiny in 1997 and 1998, when three children died after their parents denied them basic medical care. One of them, 11-year-old Bo Phillips, had diabetes.

Queen's Bench Justice Douglas Sirrs said Wednesday he was disturbed the family had showed what he called a "willful blindness" and ignorance of medical issues.

Dr. Csaba Hegedus, a pathologist who performed the boy's autopsy, testified that Calahan might have lived if he had received medical help in the hours before he died.

The couple testified they didn't know their son had diabetes, and Steven Shippy said he was disappointed with the verdict.

"I was kind of shocked," he said. "At times it looked really good. ... It seemed like everything kind of turned around right at the last there."


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