Colo. Girl's Diabetes Death Ruled Homicide

Feb. 13, 2001 -- The death of a teenager whose parents refused to get her treated for diabetes because of religious beliefs has been classified a homicide and the parents could be charged with murder, Colorado prosecutors said today.

Janet Prell, spokeswoman for the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, said the Feb. 5 death of 13-year-old Amanda Bates was still being investigated and that prosecutors haven't decided whether to file charges against the girl's parents, Colleen and Randy Bates. The Bateses belong to the General Assembly Church of the First Born, a Christian sect that does not believe in medical treatment but instead relies on faith healing.

Amanda is the second of the Bateses' 12 children to die. In 1997, 3-month-old Gerald Bates died of sudden infant death syndrome. Colleen and Randy Bates were not charged in that case because Mesa County Coroner Dr. Robert Kurtzman, who performed the autopsy, said they could not have detected the problem before Gerald died, and previous medical care could not have saved the baby.

But Kurtzman told ABC affiliate KJCT in Colorado that Amanda's case is different: The complications from the diabetes that took her life could have been easily detected and treated. Amanda's death, Kurtzman said, was a direct result of not receiving proper medical care.

"The death of Amanda Bates occurred as a direct consequence of withholding medical care in a life-endangering condition and, therefore, the manner of death has been classified as a homicide," said Kurtzman.

It will now be up to prosecutors to decide whether to charge her parents in the alleged murder.

History of Medical-Deprived Deaths

Last week, Amanda was hospitalized after someone from her home called police to report that she had stopped breathing. According to police, members of the General Assembly Church of the First Born had been at her home praying over her and anointing her with oil. Amanda was revived and put on artificial life support at a Grand Junction hospital. She was then airlifted to Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, where she later died.

Colorado prosecutors could decide whether to file charges against the Bateses within the next week.

There have been 11 known deaths of children or stillbirths in Colorado in which medical treatment was withheld. Eight of those children's parents belong to the General Assembly Church of the First Born, which has approximately 25,000 members nationwide. It has six congregations and 285 families as members alone in Colorado.

The last First Born child died last July of a heart defect, but no charges were filed in that case. However, Joshua and Mindy Glory, whose 18-day-old son Warren who died of pneumonia and meningitis in February 1999, were initially charged with homicide. They later pleaded guilty to child abuse charges and are on probation.

Colorado Exemption Law Under Fire

Under Colorado law, parents or guardians who withhold medical treatment for religious reasons cannot be prosecuted as long as major insurers and the IRS recognize their faith-healing treatments. Neither the oil Amanda was anointed with on the day of her death nor the Warren Glory case fell under this category.

Colorado legislators were meeting today to discuss a bill proposal that would eliminate that state provision.

In all, 41 states have laws religious exemption provisions in their child abuse and neglect laws. In 1974, in response to First Amendment arguments and lobbying by the Christian Science church, the federal government passed a bill requiring states to pass religious exemptions from child abuse and neglect charges.

The federal government rescinded the bill in 1983, but in 1996, Congress enacted a law stating that the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act did not include a requirement that ordered parents to provide children with medical treatment that goes against their religious beliefs.

That view was supported by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who argued the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, gives parents a constitutional right to withhold medical care from their children on religious grounds.

ABC Affiliate KJCT in Grand Junction, Colo., contributed to this report.