Parents Charged in Faith Healing Case

16-year-old allegedly rejected medical treatment; case highlights faith healing.

ByABC News
October 6, 2008, 6:16 PM

Oct. 7, 2008— -- The prosecution of an Oregon couple who allegedly tried to heal their dying son with prayer has focused attention on laws that, in some cases, allow parents to treat their children with faith.

Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and Marci Rae Beagley, 46, pleaded not guilty on Friday to criminally negligent homicide charges in the death of their son, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley.

Neil died June 17 from complications of a urinary tract blockage, according to medical examiners. The condition, which doctors say is easily treatable, caused kidney and heart failure.

The Beagleys belong to a religious sect known as the Followers of Christ Church, which rejects medical treatment and, instead, relies on prayer. Several relatives who were with Neil Beagley at the time of his death told police that he had refused medical care, according to the Gladstone, Ore., police.

Marci Beagley declined to comment when reached at her Oregon City home, Monday. Attorneys for the Beagleys could not be reached for comment. The district attorney handling the case declined to comment.

The Beagleys are among a handful of parents around the country, including their daughter and son-in-law,who are currently facing criminal charges related to spiritual healing.

Their case has focused attention on some laws that let parents rely on prayer to heal their children. Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School, who writes about religious issues, said the case may test Oregon's religious freedom laws and may prompt other states to re-examine their spiritual healing laws.

"There was a time when we were willing to permit these children to be lost, but there are increasingly more prosecutions and lawsuits," she said. "Children should not be permitted to be the testing ground for their parents' faith or secular views if it's going to result in their death."

More than 40 states make some religious exception in child abuse laws for parents who practice spiritual healing, though the laws vary widely in scope, according to Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty, a nonprofit that opposes such laws.