The Oregonian - March 10, 2011
Oregon House unanimously votes to end faith healing exception
By Ryan Kost, The Oregonian
The Oregon House approved a bill Thursday that would remove legal protection for parents who choose faith healing over medical intervention when treating their children.
The bill passed unanimously, though two Republican representatives raised concerns that the legislation was taking the issue away from juries and sending the state down a slippery slope.
The legislation comes in response to an Oregon City church, the Followers of Christ, that has a long history of child deaths even though the conditions from which the children died were medically treatable.
Currently, spiritual treatment can be used as a defense against some* homicide charges. The bill would eliminate that defense and subject parents who chose faith healing over medical treatment at the expense of their child's life to mandatory sentencing under Measure 11.
"In the past two years alone, two children have died and another had been severely disfigured due to lack of medical care," said Democratic Rep. Carolyn Tomei, one of the bill's sponsors. "These children suffered needlessly. Their deaths were avoidable."
The bill has gained the support of several groups, including the Christian Science Church, and passed through legislative committee with unanimous support.
During the floor vote, two Republicans raised concerns about the bill. Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, asked Tomei whether parents had ever been found not guilty as a result of the special defense. Tomei explained that in the most recent cases, grand juries have opted to charge the parents with other crimes to avoid the faith healing defense.
McLean, however, appeared undeterred.
"Oregon juries are quite capable of deciding," he said. "We are taking this issue away from juries and grand juries."
Rep. Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, said he worried "we might be heading down a slippery slope." He said he prayed earlier in the day about his son's severe tonsillitis. His wife took his son to the doctor Thursday morning, he added, but "am I going to go to prison because I took the time to pray with my child?"
Both Republicans voted for the bill but pledged to seek amendments when the legislation passes through the Senate.
Tomei addressed the concerns in her closing remarks.
"Colleagues, this bill is not written ... to send anyone to prison," she said. "Our hope is that we're sending a certain group of people a message that it's against the law if their child is in grave danger ... to not give them medical care."
-- Ryan Kost; Follow me on twitter @oregonianryan
*CORRECTION: This article previously stated that spiritual healing can be used as a defense against all homicide charges. In fact, it can only be used as a defense for some homicide charges. For instance, it can not be used as a defense in the case of second-degree manslaughter.
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