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PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Two parents charged with criminally negligent homicide in the faith-healing death of their teenage son will ask a judge to dismiss the charges because they followed the advice of state child welfare workers.
Attorneys for the couple, Jeff and Marci Beagley, also contend state law on parental responsibility in children’s health care is unconstitutionally vague.
The Beagleys belong to the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City church that relies solely on spiritual healing and rejects doctors and medicine. Attorneys also will revisit issues that arose when the couple’s daughter, Raylene Worthington, faced similar charges in the death of her 15-month-old daughter.
Worthington and her husband, Carl, were accused of manslaughter in the death of their daughter, Ava. Raylene Worthington was found not guilty; her husband was convicted of criminal mistreatment and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Both cases involve questions about the rights of parents to treat their children with faith healing and allegations that church members are targeted for prosecution because of their beliefs.
The two cases also differ in a couple of significant ways. Jeff and Marci Beagley’s son, Neil, was 16 when he died. State law gives children over age 15 the right to independently seek and receive medical treatment.
Oregon law, however, does not permit a juvenile to refuse medical treatment, prosecutors said. Neil had never been to a doctor, did not know the severity of his condition and could not make an informed decision, according to prosecutors.
The actions of the state’s Department of Human Services will play a role in the Beagleys’ defense. Child welfare workers did not have contact with the Worthingtons before the girl’s death.
Following Ava’s death on March 2, 2008, social workers met twice with the Beagleys to discuss the medical condition of Neil and his younger sister. The Beagleys said the indictment should be dismissed because they relied on statements by state employees, who told them Neil was legally permitted to decide whether to seek a doctor’s care.
Defense attorneys are expected to argue that “a reasonably intelligent person would have no way of knowing that a parent who chooses to provide treatment to his or her child through spiritual means alone constitutes a violation of the duty of a parent,” according to court documents.
By Steve Maye
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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