Couple jailed for refusing medical care in favour of faith healing

An Oregon couple convicted of manslaughter have each been sentenced to six years in prison for asking God – not doctors – to heal their newborn child.

Faith healing

Dale and Shannon Hickman, members of the Followers of Christ religious movement, were convicted in 2011 of second-degree manslaughter after their two-month-premature baby son died in 2009 shortly after being born. Rather than seek emergency medical care, they anointed baby David’s head with olive oil and began praying after he began breathing erratically, turned pale in colour, and became almost unresponsive. Olive oil. In which lunatic realm of existence did olive oil become the sovereign remedy?

The two midwives present for the delivery – which took place at the couple’s home – were said to have no experience of premature births, and the couple claimed during their trial that “they did not believe anything was medically wrong” with their child – despite it being born two months prematurely – and “would not have done anything differently” even had they known.

Their original sentence has been upheld after a lengthy appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, where the Hickmans and their lawyers claimed that the burden of proof was on the state to demonstrate that the couple knew that their religious beliefs would result in the death of baby David. Another way of saying that would be “You have to prove that either God does not exist, or that if he does, he couldn’t be bothered to intervene.”

The coroner reported to the court that the cause of death was staphylococcus pneumonia, and David would have had a “99% chance of survival” if the parents had called 911, instead of leaving a message on the almighty answerphone in the sky. Religious cults – that’s c-u-L-t-s – justify their belief in the power of prayer by referencing a passage in the bible – James 5:14 – which reads: “If any be sick, call for the elders of the church, let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” The James in question probably wrote his book sometime before the year AD 70, when medical science was so advanced that if you went to the doctor with a migraine then you’d probably get a hole drilled into your head.

A 1998 study found that from 172 cases recorded between 1975 and 1995, 140 victims would have had a greater than 90% chance of survival if they had received medical attention, indeed, it found that only 3 would have received no benefit at all, and that’s only based on 20 years of cases, and only in America, and only those cases which the authorities found out about.

There are times when devotion to a particular religion really does take the piss, frankly, and – not including the obvious desire to self-detonate for virgins – there are plenty other documented cases of “passive” deaths by zealotry.

If a person wants to be religious – if they think that talking to their imaginary friend makes them a better person and they want to get together at the weekends for a sing-along with like-minded individuals – then that’s just fine. Using your devotion to that peaceful, loving, caring fellow in the sky to kill your children, on the other hand, really isn’t.