Faith-Healing Parents Charged in Baby's Death

Doctors say toddler's death could easily have been prevented with antibiotics.

ByABC News
February 23, 2009, 1:36 PM

March 29, 2008— -- A Clackamas County, Ore., couple are facing second degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges after their 15-month-old daughter died from what the state medical examiner said were easily cured illnesses.

The infant girl, Ava Worthington, died March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and an infection, both of which could have been cured with common antibiotics, the medical examiner said.

But police say that instead of going to a doctor, 28-year-old Carl Worthington and his wife, Raylene, 25, opted to pray for their daughter.

The two surrendered to police at Calackamas County Jail Friday night. Bail was set at $250,000 apiece, and they were released hours later after each posted $25,000 bond, Clackamas County Sheriff's Office spokesman Det. Jim Strovink said.

They are scheduled to appear in Clackamas County Circuit Court on Monday.

A reporter from ABC News affiliate KATU-TV in Portland, Ore., went to the Worthington's home before they turned themselves in, but the couple declined to comment.

The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, that has a history of shunning medical care in favor of faith healing.

A decade ago the church received national attention after KATU reported that the state medical examiner believed approximately 20 children whose parents belonged to the church, had died from untreated illnesses that were curable.

For more of KATU's coverage of the case click here.

After that story broke, the Oregon state legislature changed the law to bar defendants, in most cases, from claiming their religious beliefs prevented them from seeking medical help.

"Ten years ago I couldn't express my feelings for what was going on out there, but I can now," said Mark Hass, who as a KATU reporter worked on the story and is now a state senator. "This is child abuse. Pure and simple. There is no other way to say it."

Though the revised law removed the so-called "spiritual-healing defense," there is still a provision that allows judges to give parents a lighter sentence based on their beliefs.