Oregon prosecutors review girl's death, faith-healing law

The Associated Press/March 22, 2008

Oregon City - Prosecutors are reviewing the death of a 15-month-old girl a medical examiner says could have been saved if she had been treated with antibiotics.

The Oregonian newspaper quoted Dr. Christopher Young, a deputy state medical examiner, as saying that Ava Worthington died March 2 at home from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and infection.

He said both conditions could have been prevented or treated with antibiotics, and the child's breathing was further compromised by a benign cyst that had never been medically addressed and could have been removed from her neck, The Oregonian reported Saturday.

If prosecuted, the paper said, Ava Worthington's parents would be the first members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian denomination, to face charges for failing to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child.

"We are reviewing the case, and our investigation is progressing," said Greg Horner, Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney. He did not release the parents' names.

When The Associated Press called the number listed for the church Saturday, the person who answered hung up.

Child-abuse detectives recently referred investigative findings to the prosecutors, who are evaluating the case in light of a law passed in 1999 after several faith-healing deaths of children.

"This is the first time that they could be taking a shot at interpreting the law," said state Senate President Peter Courtney, who supported the bill.

It eliminated Oregon's "spiritual-healing defense" in cases of second-degree manslaughter, first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment and nonpayment of child support.

The Legislature passed the bill after months of debate over religious freedom, parental rights and the state's responsibility to protect children.

The Followers of Christ Church came to Oregon early in the 20th century. According to church tradition, when members become ill, fellow worshippers pray and anoint them with oil. Former members say those who seek modern medical remedies are ostracized.

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