a prison cell
A couple in Oregon has been sentenced to six years in prison for refusing medical treatment to their son on religious grounds. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A couple in Oregon who refused medical treatment for their son because of their religion have been sentenced to six years in prison. Dale and Shannon Hickman were found guilty of manslaughter in the death of their 9-hour-old son after he was born prematurely with underdeveloped lungs and a bacterial infection.

Baby was two months premature

A couple in Oregon who belong to the Followers of Christ Church, which forbids seeking medical care, have been sentenced to more than six years in prison for allowing their son to die, according to the Washington Post.

Shannon Hickman went into labor two months prematurely on Sept. 26, 2009, according to OregonLive.com. Her husband, Dale Hickman, decided their son David would be born at Shannon’s mother’s home.

David was born with underdeveloped lungs, and he had an infection. The couple prayed over him and anointed him with olive oil, but he began to turn blue from lack of oxygen and died within nine hours of birth.

Law removed religious exemptions

Prosecutors maintained that David would have lived had he received treatment, according to the Daily Mail. The judge sentenced Dale and Shannon Hickman to the minimum mandatory sentence of 75 months in prison and three years of probation.

Oregon state has long had issues with the Followers of Christ Church, which teaches that the Bible forbids seeking any type of medical treatment. In 1999, according to MSNBC, state lawmakers restricted the religious exemption in manslaughter cases, making it more difficult for families practicing faith healing to avoid conviction on religious grounds.

Earlier this year, according to USA Today, Oregon lawmakers removed the religious exemption after Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment. The Wylands refused to seek treatment for their 18-month-old daughter, who had an arterial blockage and fluid build-up in her eye that nearly rendered her blind.

More convictions for refusing medical treatment

According to MSNBC, Jeff and Marcy Beagley of the Followers of Christ Church were convicted of negligent homicide in 2010 for allowing their son Neil, 16, to die in 2008 from complications related to a simple urinary tract infection. In 2009, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington were acquitted of manslaughter after the 2008 death of their 18-month-old daughter from a blood infection and pneumonia. Carl was convicted of criminal mistreatment.

Other states have convicted parents for refusing medical treatment on religious grounds resulting in their child’s death. In 1997, according to the New York Times, Dennis and Lorrie Nixon of Altoona, Pa., were sentenced to two-and-a-half years for allowing their 16-year-old daughter to die from diabetes complications. The couple also refused to seek treatment for their infant son in 1991, and he died from an ear infection.


Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/faith-healing-parents-sentenced-to-six-years/2011/10/31/gIQA3d51ZM_story.html

OregonLive: http://www.oregonlive.com/oregon-city/index.ssf/2011/09/jury_reaches_verdict_in_faith-.html

Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2055855/Faith-healing-couple-Dale-Shannon-Hickman-sentenced-6-years-jail.html

MSNBC: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35207710/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/faith-healing-parents-guilty-teen-sons-death/#.TrBAP2WP-_0

USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-05-25-heal24_ST_N.htm

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/11/us/faith-healers-sentenced-in-daughter-s-death.html



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