26 Nov 2010

Oregon judge tells church members to stop killing children with faith 'healing', parents jailed 16 months for son's death

Google News - Associated Press March 8, 2010

Oregon faith healers get 16 months for son's death


OREGON CITY, Ore. — The judge who sentenced an Oregon couple to prison Monday for the death of their son says members of their church must quit relying on faith healing when their children's lives are at stake.

"The fact is, too many children have died unnecessarily — a graveyard full," Judge Steven Maurer said. "This has to stop."

Maurer spoke in a quiet, unemotional voice as he led up to his conclusion: Jeffrey and Marci Beagley each should serve 16 months in prison. Members of the Followers of Christ church who packed the courtroom sobbed.

The Beagleys were earlier convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the June 2008 death of their 16-year-old son, Neil, of complications from a congenital urinary tract blockage. The condition normally is easily treated.

Members of their church avoid most medical care and instead rely on rituals such as anointing sick people with oil and laying hands on them.

In ordering prison terms, Maurer reflected changes made in Oregon law a decade ago stipulating that freedom of religious practices is not an excuse to shun medical treatment for a dangerously ill child. The changes were a result of the deaths of children in Followers of Christ families.

The church's small cemetery near the end of the Oregon Trail includes row after row of headstones marking the graves of children.

Maurer said the community is tolerant of the church, and he emphasized the sentences were not an indictment of it.

"We must keep in mind that this crime was one in which a child died," Maurer said. "This was a situation where the community was counting on his parents to understand the boundaries of their faith."

The Beagleys' attorneys said they would appeal.

"This case is not a referendum on religion," defense attorney Wayne Mackeson said. "To me, it's a battle in a larger war — seeing that justice is done."

Neil Beagley was described as a bright, confident boy who loved his church and fixing cars. He became ill as the blockage trapped toxic waste in his body.

His parents testified they thought he had a cold or the flu. Medical experts say the boy's kidneys were destroyed and his organs shut down.

Just months earlier, the Beagleys' granddaughter, 15-month-old Ava Worthington, died from pneumonia and a blood infection that also could have been treated. Her parents, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington, were acquitted of manslaughter. Carl Brent Worthington served two months in jail for criminal mistreatment.

They were in the courtroom Monday. Before the sentencing, Marci Beagley dabbed at her eyes as she huddled with Raylene Worthington and several other women.

Defense attorneys sought probation for the Beagleys. Mackeson called on Courtney S. Campbell, a professor of philosophy who specializes in bioethics at Oregon State University, who recommended probation, education and counseling rather than prison.

"There needs to be respect for religious freedom, accompanied by personal accountability and responsibility," Campbell said.

Maurer said the Beagleys and the congregation knew about medical care but refused it.

"These two cases illustrate a crime that was a product of an unwillingness to respect the boundaries on freedom of religious expression," Maurer said. "They've continued to use spiritual treatment practices in exclusion of medical treatment, even when their children were in extreme harm's way."

The defense attorneys asked that the couple remain free pending appeals. Maurer refused.

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The Clackamas Review - Oregon March 8, 2010

Faith-healing parents sentenced to 16 months in prison

Judge says sentence was necessary as deterrant to other church members

By Matthew Graham | Clackamas Review

The Oregon City parents who were convicted in January in the faith healing death of their son were both sentenced to 16 months in the state penitentiary on Monday.

Jeff and Marci Beagley were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in January. Their son, Neil, died in June 2008 of a treatable blockage to his urinary system.

Neil had refused medical treatment in favor of using faith healing, according to the family. He died after a week in which he ate little, threw up regularly and spent most of his time in bed. The family asked if he wanted to seek medical treatment, but never sought it for him.

“The idea of sending Jeff and Marci to prison is heart-wrenching,” said Judge Steven Maurer. “The fact here is too many children have died unnecessarily, needlessly, they have died, and it has to stop, it just has to stop … and so as difficult and as heartbreaking as it is … Jeff and Marci Beagley are going to have to go to prison.”

Maurer made it clear that the sentence was a direct attempt to deter other members of the Oregon City-based Followers of Christ Church from relying on faith healing to the exclusion of medical care.

“The fact of the matter is that Jeffrey and Marci Beagley are in large measure a product of the church,” he said. “The church has imprinted on them their beliefs, their attitudes, their concepts of their responsibilities in a matter that permeates this case. Decisions that were made and were not made by Jeff and Marci Beagley really are the core result of their adherence and their devotion to their church. So there really is no meaningful way to escape it, and we’re deluding ourselves if we pretend otherwise.”

He said other formal and informal attempts to work with the church to get them to recognize serious conditions and seek medical treatment had failed, as evidenced by the deaths of Neil and his niece, Ava Worthington.

“If one member of the Followers of Christ Church, on young couple find their child in distress and, being called upon by other members of the church to lay on hands, to just pray harder, if just one young couple says, ‘you know, I think this is the kind of situation we need to call for help’ … if just one child survives, this (sentence) is worth it,” he said.

The presumptive sentence for the crime is 16 to 18 months in state prison.

The defense had argued for leniency due to a number of mitigating factors and brought in a witness who recommended a court-imposed education program for the parents to ensure such an event doesn’t happen again.

Wayne Mackeson, Jeff Beagley’s attorney, said that the Beagleys’ cooperation with police during the investigation, with state Department of Human Services workers in the months before Neil died, Neil’s age and maturity, the fact that the crime was an omission rather than an affirmative act and the Beagleys’ crime-free histories should be considered.

Steve Lindsey, Marci Beagley’s attorney, called Courtney Campbell, a professor of religion and culture at OSU for the last 20 years. Campbell told the court that in the bio-ethicist community, educational programs are preferred over jail time when possible.

“I do believe that there are programs that have been developed, books that have been recommended that, if an individual is open to education and persuasive processes, to learn about the illness and diseases, you try that process first,” he said.

But Maurer said similar attempts at reaching out to the church had failed and this was not a case in which the symptom could be treated like a disease, like alcoholism.

“Unfortunately and tragically I think these two cases illustrate all too dramatically and tragically that the church members are not really fully willing to respect the boundaries of that freedom of religious expression,” he said.

The Beagleys were immediately taken into custody. Mackeson said they would appeal the conviction.

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