OREGON CITY — Carl and Raylene Worthington told detectives that they never considered calling a doctor, even as their 15-month-old daughter deteriorated and died.
“I don’t believe in them,” Carl Worthington said of doctors. “I believe in faith healing.”
Raylene Worthington said that her religious beliefs do not encompass medical care and that she would not have done anything different for her – daughter, who died at home of pneumonia, a blood infection and other complications.
In Clackamas County Circuit Court on Wednesday, prosecutors played videotaped police interviews with the Worthingtons, who are accused of criminal mistreatment and manslaughter for failing to provide medical care for their daughter. Ava Worthington died March 2, 2008, after her parents and other members of the Followers of Christ tried to treat her with faith healing.
Ava’s father, who goes by Brent, his middle name, described what happened:
Ava came down with what appeared to be a cold or the flu on a Tuesday. By Saturday, her breathing became labored and the family turned to its traditional faith-healing rituals, praying, fasting, anointing the body with oil, administering diluted wine and laying on of hands.
By Sunday, Brent Worthington said he thought there was “a possibility” his daughter was so sick she could die. Then, after a final session of laying on of hands at about 5 p.m., “she perked up,” he said. She grabbed her bottle and “took some food.”
“She was peaceful; she was rested,” Worthington said.
Two hours later Ava was dead.
The interviewers, Detectives Michelle Finn and James Rhodes of the Clackamas County Sheriff Office’s child-abuse unit, asked pointed questions, and Brent Worthington provided details about his, his family’s and his church’s beliefs and practices.
He said no one in his immediate family has ever been to a doctor or used prescription or over-the-counter medicine. “It’s not something we believe in.”
The detectives also asked about the growth on Ava’s neck, which swelled during the last days of her life. Prosecutors allege the lump — a benign cystic hygroma — impeded her breathing.
The soft lump became more noticeable two months before Ava died and started to get “tight” the day before her death, according to the Worthingtons.
Brent Worthington said he had ultimate responsibility for Ava’s care. “I’m the head of the house; it falls to me. The wife follows the husband.”
He said he confers with his wife but did not consult with anyone else about treating Ava’s illness. Raylene Worthington did not dispute the decision to rely on spiritual healing, he said.
Asked if she would have taken Ava to a doctor if she knew her child was dying, Raylene Worthington said, “I don’t know.”
Brent Worthington said that forgoing medical treatment is probably difficult for outsiders to understand. For him, medical treatment “is not a question. It’s not even thought.”
When the detectives told Worthington that the law requires a parent to provide adequate medical care, he said he had provided care.
“I did everything I could do for her,” Worthington said. “What I was doing was working,” he said. “She was getting relief.”
Dr. Christopher Young, the deputy state medical examiner who conducted the girl’s autopsy, disagreed. “The absence of action led to her death,” said Young, who testified after the jury saw the interviews.
Ava’s cyst first appeared when she was a few months old.
By Christmas 2007, the cyst was swollen and likely interfered Ava’s with breathing, Young said. “That’s the time when a reasonable parent” would have taken a child to a doctor, he said.
Ava’s various medical conditions were easily treated, and antibiotics and a simple medical procedure could have saved her right up to the day she died, Young said.
The cyst could have been drained with a needle, providing temporary but instant relief, Young said, and antibiotics could have dampened the infections.