Parents Indicted in Child's Death After Alleged Faith-Healing

The parents of an Oregon City toddler have been indicted on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment, after their daughter died of what officials are calling medical neglect.

Carl and Raylene Worthington were indicted on Friday. They are members of the Followers of Christ Church, whose members have a history of treating gravely ill children solely via prayer, instead of with medical attention.

After several children whose parents were members of the church died in the 1990s, lawmakers passed new rules striking down legal shields for faith-healing parents.

Since then, there have been no troublesome reports of children's deaths associated with the church, until the case of Ava Worthington, who died March 2 of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection.

The state medical examiner's office has said that she could have been treated with antibiotics.

Since the new laws took effect in 1999, said child abuse Detective Jeff Green of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, "We haven't seen any cases of significant medical neglect ... until now."

Before the law changed, church members who got in traffic accidents would take injured children home, rather than to the hospital, leaving police frustrated but powerless to intervene, Green said.

In the two years after the law passed, detectives responded to two cases of sick or injured Followers of Christ children, Green said.

One child had Crohn's disease and the other had a broken arm, which church members had tried to set themselves. In both cases, parents complied without protest when police insisted that they take their children to licensed physicians.

Ava Worthington's parents also lost a baby boy in August 2001, but the death investigation was closed after family members told police the child was stillborn.

Several other Followers of Christ children have also been stillborn or died during home births in recent years, but none of the investigated deaths resulted in criminal charges.

The couple faces sentences of more than six years on the manslaughter charges and up to a year on the mistreatment charges, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney for the county. After surrendering at the jail Friday, they were released on $250,000 bail, he said.

They were to appear at a hearing Monday afternoon.

Horner said he didn't know whether the couple had lawyers. A number listed for the couple was disconnected. "We've been told, 'No comment,' " said a man who answered the phone at the church Monday. He would not identify himself.

The Oregon City church, which is not associated with a mainstream denomination, traces its origins to the faith-healing Pentecostal movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.