A decision was made for the first time in a courtroom in Clackamas County today. Two parents were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the death of their son. What makes the verdict unique is that the parents didn't abuse their son; they simply treated their son's medical condition with faith healing instead of medical care.
The family belongs to a local church, the Followers of Christ. Over the years that I have been teaching, I have had many students from this faith community in my classroom. They are invariably respectful, hardworking, and clean. I have liked all of them, and I have developed strong teacher-student relationships with a handful of them. Followers families live in several homes on my small dead-end street, and they have been good neighbors to me over the years.
I, too, believe in the power of prayer. I believe that those with authority can provide blessings of healing through prayer and the laying on of hands, although I do go to the doctor, balancing my faith in the healing power of prayer with the restorative possibilities of medical interventions.
I am not unfamiliar with the idea of choosing faith healing over medical intervention. My grandparents were members of another church, which also eschews medical care in favor healing through faith. I'm fine with adults choosing not to seek medical care--although I wish my grandfather would have been treated for pneumonia, so that I could have known him a few years longer. It is one thing for adults to make those choices, but I draw the line at children. It is a community's job to step in and help care for the children when their families are unable or unwilling to do so. That's why we have foster care. That's why we have welfare. And that's why, several years ago, the state of Oregon finally passed a law that required parents to seek medical care for their children when they became ill.
That law was passed after a little boy, whose parents were Followers, died in Oregon City of untreated juvenile diabetes. His older sister was a student in my class at the time. Years later, when he would have been in high school, his age-mates--my students--were still writing about his loss. Several of my students have lost siblings or cousins, who died of untreated medical conditions. Last year, a baby girl, granddaughter of the couple who was convicted today, died. Her mother had been one of my students. Her parents went on trial; her mother was acquitted but her father was found guilty; he served 3 months in jail. Last fall one of my dear students, who graduated just a couple of years ago, died way too young. And then there was Neil, the young man who died of a treatable urinary tract blockage, whose parents were found guilty today. I had Neil's brother in class a few years ago. We are losing too many children.
It is easy to be enraged and irate at a faith community that allows its children to die without seeking medical treatment. But mixed with my anger and frustration, always, is the respect I feel for a faith that teaches its adherents to pray with deep faith, a culture that raises its children to be hardworking members of my community. There is always this dichotomy in my reactions to these losses.
I come from a faith tradition that has suffered much persecution through its history. I get it, the desire to close ranks, to stay firm, to hold the course. But I have known, at least a little, so many of these children and their families. They are precious. They are worthy. They should not be dying as children. And so tonight, as I pray for these parents to be comforted in their grief and their trials, I cannot help but hope that this verdict may turn the tide here in Oregon City, that we won't have to keep reading headlines about children who have died too young.