Court Sends Couple to Jail for Choosing Faith Before Medicine for Dying Preemie

After their baby was born at home a full two months early, an Oregon couple didn't take their preemie to a hospital. Incredibly, they trusted the life of a three-and-a-half-pound baby to be saved by faith healing. Nine hours after his birth, David was dead. Now a court has decided the parents, Dale and Shannon Hickman, will spend the next six years in prison for criminal negligence.


Apparently taking the frail baby to a hospital or calling 911 was never even a consideration for the parents. Instead they anointed the baby's head with olive oil and prayed. The Hickmans testified that David didn't seem sick until 15 minutes before he died -- something experts say isn't possible.

But none of those details answer the most important question: Why? Why would two parents take a look at that tiny baby struggling for life and make the decision to withhold lifesaving medical treatment? It's unthinkable, and yet, the Hickmans are hardly alone.

The Hickmans are members of the hardcore Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, a church with a long history of children's dying from a lack of medical care. In addition to the Hickmans, four other couples from the Followers of Christ Church have also been prosecuted for not getting their children the appropriate medical attention over the past 10 years. But apparently, the prosecutions haven't done the job of convincing these folks that kids need appropriate medical care, regardless of your personal beliefs.

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But the message from the courts and law enforcement is clear: Regardless of your family's beliefs or traditions, parents are legally obligated to provide basic care to their children. Not getting your sick kids to a doctor when their lives are in danger amounts to criminal child abuse, plain and simple.

There are plenty of times when parents have lots of leeway to raise their kids in the traditions they see fit. Go ahead and cancel Christmas, ban dancing at home and wear burkas if you want. But once parents' personal beliefs put the lives of their children in danger, a line has been crossed. It's a bright line Oregon prosecutors are clearly ready to enforce.

And the laws protecting kids from their parents aren't limited to religious beliefs. Parents have to make tough choices all the time about what's best for their kids. Sure, you might be a strict vegan who believes in the health benefits of fasting, but that doesn't mean you get to starve your kids. Your personal beliefs aren't more important than your kids' lives. The law has spoken.

For now, all we can do is hope other members of the Followers of Christ church have received the message and that the next baby in distress will get the medical attention he or she needs to save his or her life. And the Hickmans will have the better part of a decade to consider their grave error while they sit in a jail cell.


Image via Amy the Nurse/Flickr

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