Beliefnet News

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) A couple who tried to heal their gravely ill son with prayer surrendered to authorities on Thursday (Oct. 2), a day after they were indicted by a grand jury on charges of criminally negligent homicide.
The couple, Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and Marci Rae Beagley, 46, could not be reached for comment.
Their son, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley, died June 17 of complications from a urinary-tract blockage. A deputy state medical examiner said the boy apparently suffered for years from the intensely painful but medically treatable condition. The blockage ultimately caused kidney failure, uremic poisoning and heart failure, according to autopsy results.
When the teen died at his grandmother’s home, he was surrounded by dozens of relatives and church members of the Followers of Christ. Some of those present told police that Neil Beagley, despite his prolonged suffering, chose faith healing over medical care.
Beagley’s death came less than four months after his 15-month-old niece, Ava Worthington, died in similar circumstances from treatable bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection that could have been cleared up with antibiotics.
Her parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, go to trial Jan. 26 on charges of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment.
If the Beagley case goes to trial, it is likely to draw national attention, said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor and author of the book “God vs. the Gavel,” which explores conflicts between society and the laws intended to protect religious freedoms.
“Increasingly, prosecutors and grand juries are becoming less willing to turn a blind eye to child suffering or death when it is religiously motivated,” said Hamilton, who teaches at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. “We are in the midst of a coming civil rights movement for children. The willingness to prosecute for the death of a child in a religious circumstance is part and parcel of that.”
Under a state law passed in 1971, children 15 and older have the right to seek medical care independent of their parents. While not expressly stated in state statutes, some legal experts believe the right to seek medical care also grants the right to refuse medical care.
In 1999, after a series of faith-healing deaths involving the Followers of Christ, legislators eliminated Oregon’s “spiritual-healing defense” in certain cases of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment.
Prosecutors will have to prove that reasonable medical care was withheld, and the defense may have to show that Neil Beagley made an independent decision to forgo medical treatment, said Jenny Cooke, an Oregon City defense attorney who has handled numerous homicide cases.
By Steve Mayes
Religion News Service
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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