Prosecutor asks church members: What would it take to call a doctor for ailing child?

The Oregonian/July 8, 2009

Oregon City - Carl and Raylene Worthington's fellow church members described their congregation Wednesday as a tight-knit community where people help each in time of need.

Defense attorneys called the church members to explain to a Clackamas County jury why large numbers of people attended prayer sessions at the Worthington home the weekend of the couple's 15-month-old daughter, Ava, died last year.

The Worthingtons are charged with second-degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment for failing to provide adequate medical care. The couple belongs to the Followers of Christ, a Oregon City congregation that believes in spiritual healing rather than medical care.

The church is "a close group of people," said Seth Keith, a childhood friend of the Worthingtons. Close enough that you could leave your children with any of them and "trust they'd be taken care of," he said.

Prosecutors countered with questions intended to show that church members were close-minded on medical matters and would not have called a doctor, regardless of Ava's condition.

Keith, 28, said church members regularly help each other out. If someone needed a house painted, another church member might be hired and others would volunteer, turning the chore into a community event.

An illness is "the same kind of deal," Keith said. Church members send out the word and "one thing leads to the next" and a crowd arrives, he said.

During the last two days of Ava's life in March 2008 the Worthington home was filled with friends and family members who came to provide emotional support or participate in faith-healing sessions.

Prosecutors maintain that Ava died of complications of a large cyst that developed on her neck, weakened her and led to pneumonia and a blood infection.

Simple medical treatment could have saved her, even in her last minutes, said doctors called as prosecution witnesses.

Keith said he "confronted" Carl Worthington about the growth. Worthington assured him that the cyst did not bother Ava. Keith left the Worthington home shortly before Ava died thinking "the worst was past and she was on the mend."

All nine witnesses called by the defense belong to the church and seven of them are related to the Worthingtons. They all said they do not use doctors or medicine.

Prosecutor Greg Horner's questions to some witnesses Wednesday were intended to show the church as an insulated and rigid institution where medical care is not an option and outside opinions aren't solicited.

Laina Beagley, Raylene Worthington's aunt, conceded that there was no diversity of opinion about Ava's care.

Beagley said she saw Ava the last two days of her life. During that time, the girl became more tired and her cyst got larger and slightly discolored.

"That wasn't enough for you (to say), 'Let's get this kid a doctor?'" Horner asked. "If that wasn't enough, what would it take?"

"When I thought it was needed. I didn't think it was needed," Beagley said. "I've never been in that situation."

"What if she stopped breathing?" Horner asked.

"She did stop breathing," Beagley said.

"That's sort of my point," Horner said.

Around 7 p.m. March 2, Beagley stepped out of the room where Ava was resting to call her own children.

Beagley heard someone yell that Ava was not breathing.

You were on the phone, Horner said. Did you consider calling 9-1-1?

Beagley said she did not.

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