More than a decade ago, Oregon City officials claimed to have discovered an unusually large number of child deaths from families who belonged to the church.
At least 78 children are estimated to have died in the church since 1955, either in stillbirths or in treatable childhood illnesses, and about ten women have died in childbirth since 1998.
From 2009 to 2011, the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted four couples fromFollowers of Christ for failing to seek medical attention for their children.
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Dale and Shannon Hickman, whose premature son David died nine hours after being born, were sentenced in 2011 to six years in prison. The Hickman’s belong to the Followers of Christ church located in Oregon City, Oregon. The church preaches faith healing and rejects modern medicine in favor of prayer and other spiritual practices such as anointing the sick with oil. The church is notorious for allowing sick children to suffer and even die rather than seeking medical attention.
A trial found that when Shannon went into labor two months early in 2009, the couple traveled to her mother’s house instead of a hospital. David Hickman was born weighing three pounds, seven ounces, and lived for less than nine hours.
The Hickmans testified that they “never considered” calling 911, per The Oregonian, and that the infant didn’t start showing signs of distress until about 15 minutes before he died, which state experts said was impossible. David Hickman responded by holding the baby, anointing his head with olive oil, and praying for him, which didn’t work.
That belief did not help David, who died of staphylococcus pneumonia within nine hours of his birth, as the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s office later determined.
If the Hickmans had phoned 911 as soon as their son was born, one state doctor estimated that he“would have had a 99 percent chance of survival.” David would be preschool age today.
The Hickmans were both convicted of second-degree manslaughter, a felony requiring a minimum of six years and three months in prison. At sentencing, Judge Robert Herndon noted that one of the congregation’s midwives, who frequently attended Followers births, seemed to know very little about premature infants.
“She’s one of the most dangerous people in Clackamas County,” Herndon said.
When the Hickmans were put on trial for manslaughter, Judge Linder notes, they told the court that they regret nothing about how they handled their premature birth.
“Both of them testified that, looking back on David’s death, they would not have done anything differently,” Linder wrote in her decision.
“We do what the Bible tells us, and we put God first and ask for faith,”Shannon Hickman said at the time. “If we don’t have the faith, then we seek medical treatment because it is not there, you know.”
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