Couple Pleads Guilty to Letting Son Die After Ruptured Appendix Isn't Healed By God

Religious extremism is a horrific thing. Spanish Inquisition, anyone? How about terrorism? When you boil down that extremism to the domestic level, you've got this: An Oregon couple who let their 16-year-old die over the course of a week due to a ruptured appendix -- because their religion doesn't believe in modern medicine. Instead of rushing their son to a hospital, they tried to pray their son's illness away. And, guess what? It didn't work. So he died.

The couple, Brandi and Russel Bellew, have pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and will receive five years probation. Frankly, I'm not sure this sentence is harsh enough. Religious beliefs shouldn't be an excuse for manslaughter, murder, or depraved indifference to life.


In February, the couple's teen son, Austin, one of their seven children, became ill. They belong to a church called General Assembly and the Church of the First Born, which apparently doesn't believe in modern medicine. After he died, the parents told investigators that their son didn't want to be taken to a doctor, that he wanted to pray in accordance with his religion. (So the parents say, anyway. Austin isn't around to tell his version of events.)

Oops, but there's a problem with that, folks. In Oregon, a person has to be 18 years old to make their own medical decisions, and Austin was only 16. An autopsy subsequently revealed he had died of a ruptured appendix, something that could have been fairly easily cured at a hospital.

For whatever reason, the couple were able to plead to a lesser charge than manslaughter, which would have given them jail if they'd been found guilty. However, the couple have agreed that if any of their other six children get sick they have to bring them to a doctor. (And please I hope it's a real doctor??)

I'm sure the prosecution had their reasons for allowing a plea deal. Perhaps they thought a jury would be made up of locals who also believe in this hoo-doo-voo-doo. Or they thought that no one would want to put parents of six surviving kids in jail.

But considering all of the laws out there that say if you come upon a person dying and do nothing to help them, you'll be charged, this is pretty awful. If I'd seen Austin on the street, bleeding from a hit-and-run, and didn't call the police, and said a little prayer for him, and then went on my way, I'd be called a monster. Yet somehow these parents get away with it because of their religious beliefs. Well, people believe all kinds of wackadoodle things.

This reminds me of that joke about the woman (sometimes it's a guy) stranded in a flood who keeps shooing away offers of help by saying, "The Lord will provide." Eventually, she drowns. When she gets to heaven, she says, "What happened?!" God says, "For crying out loud, lady, I sent three boats!"

The Lord sent medicine. Or, if you believe in science (like I do), that had a little something to do with it, too. Either way, use it.

Do you think this couple was wrong? Do you think they deserved prison?


Image via MarkHillary/Flickr

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