Clackamas County district attorney reaches out to families in faith-healing church

The Oregonian/April 20, 2010

Oregon City - Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote kept his promise to reach out to an Oregon City church whose members have been prosecuted for failing to provide adequate medical care for their children.

Foote sent a letter last week to 415 families who belong to the Followers of Christ Church. The church has a long tradition of using faith healing rather than mainstream medical treatment, sometimes with fatal consequences.

"As a starting point towards a possible dialogue between the church and law enforcement, let me ask the following question: Is there an opportunity for us to agree under what circumstances parents should take their children to a doctor or hospital for appropriate medical care?" Foote wrote.

"Our goal would be to try and find ways to make sure that children of the church are safe and receive appropriate medical care. We would work with you to make that happen," the letter said.

It is hard to say how many church members would be open to using doctors. Current and former members have said seeking medical treatment shows a lack of faith. An attorney representing the church did not return a call to his office on Tuesday.

Foote did not offer any specific recommendations. He said the Oregon City School District and the state Department of Human Services would like to be involved in the discussion, but he did not elaborate.

"It's too early to tell if anything will come out of it or not," Foote said. "The decision is theirs, not mine."

Foote said he was reluctant to talk about the letter. "The letter was not intended as a public act. It was intended as a private communication. The real conversation should go on in private," Foote said Tuesday.

In recent years, Foote's office filed criminal charges against two sets of parents who belong to the church.

Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were found guilty in February of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their teenage son, who died of complications from an untreated urinary blockage. Each was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

The Beagleys' daughter, Raylene Worthington, and her husband, Carl, were found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter last summer in the death of their 15-month-old daughter, who died of a blood infection. Carl Worthington was convicted of criminal mistreatment, a misdemeanor, for failing to provide adequate medical care.

Foote noted that the state medical examiner's office reported that during the past 30 years more than 20 children of church members had died from preventable or curable illnesses. The mortality rate for Followers of Christ children during that period is 26 times greater than the general population.

"It is not our preference to prosecute parents for failing to give their children medical care," Foote wrote. "Our first preference is to have parents take on that responsibility so that children do not die. ..."

"As you know, the law in Oregon is very clear. All parents are legally required to protect their children," Foote said. "There are no exceptions to this rule."

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