Authorities say faith-healing church baby died from pneumonia

The Associated Press/November 2, 2009

Portland - Oregon authorities are investigating the death of the newborn son of a member of a faith healing church after a state medical examiner determined the cause was pneumonia and complications from premature birth.

Dr. Clifford Nelson said the infant was born at about 32 to 34 weeks, and that underdeveloped lungs were also a factor in the Sept. 27 death. A full-term pregnancy typically lasts about 40 weeks.

Investigators said the baby born to a 24-year-old member of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City lived about nine hours.

KATU-TV cited sources within the church as saying the mother experienced complications before giving birth at home without a doctor. Church members avoid doctors and rely on faith healing and prayer to treat illness.

Nelson also noted inflammation of the fetal membranes caused by a bacterial infection, The Oregonian reported. The infection can cause the amniotic sac to rupture - or the mother's water to break, as it is more commonly known.

Depending on the mother's health and the amount of time after such a rupture, hospitalization may be medically appropriate, the newspaper said.

When KATU asked Nelson whether the child could have survived if his parents had sought medical treatment, he referred questions to the Clackamas County district attorney's office.

Michael Regan, senior deputy district attorney, said the case was being reviewed.

Prosecutors are trying to determine whether the parents failed to meet their legal duty to provide adequate medical care.

The Oregon Legislature changed state law in 1999 in an effort to ensure such care by limiting faith healing as a legal defense for parents. The change came after an investigation into a number of child deaths among Followers of Christ Church members.

Two couples who belong to the church were charged last year under the new law.

Jeff and Marci Beagley, are scheduled to go on trial in January on charges of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their 16-year-old son, Neil, who died last year of an untreated medical condition.

The Beagley's daughter, Raylene Worthington, and her husband, Carl Brent Worthington, were both charged last year with manslaughter and criminal mistreatment in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, from pneumonia and a blood infection the medical examiner's office said could easily have been cured with antibiotics.

The Worthingtons were both acquitted of manslaughter after a lengthy trial last summer but the jury convicted Carl Brent Worthington of criminal mistreatment. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years on probation.

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