We’ve talked long enough about faith healing in Oregon. We’ve shared countless earnest conversations about religious liberty and parental rights.
The time for words is over. Now it’s time for pictures.
Another couple from the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City stand accused of criminal mistreatment for deliberately withholding medical care from their child. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland of Beavercreek believe in treating sickness with prayer rather than medicine, even when prayer doesn’t work.
Their infant daughter, Alayna, has a serious eye problem, which they chose not to treat. Someone notified authorities and the state intervened, and now the Wylands are trying to regain custody of their daughter.
Those are the words, wholly inadequate.
Only the pictures do the story justice.
Photographs obtained from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office show Alayna as a sweetly chubby baby with a grotesque protrusion on her face, distorting her eye. The mass is angry and purplish red and painful-looking with the radius of a tennis ball. In the grocery store, it would be visible from five aisles away.
A reasonable person wouldn’t keep this child from a doctor.
A reasonable person would break down doors to find a doctor.
Medical experts describe the eye problem as a hemangioma, a fast-growing mass of blood vessels. Normally the condition could be diagnosed and easily treated at the first signs of swelling or discoloration. Left untreated, the mass pushed Alayna’s eye down and out, placing profound pressure on her eyeball and eye socket, as The Oregonian’s Steve Mayes reported.
It’s not clear whether Alayna will go blind in that eye or somehow recover. The only certain thing is that the Wylands deliberately withheld medical care, and admitted in court to doing so, from a baby whose injury was painfully obvious.
This is a not a sad instance of an unanswered prayer. This is a textbook case of medical mistreatment and neglect, with photographs to answer the questions that words cannot.
Over the past three decades, more than 20 Oregon children whose parents belong to the Followers of Christ church have died of treatable illnesses, according to the state medical examiner’s office. Yet Oregon grants special leniency to faith-healing parents, singling them out favorably in state policy and protecting them from being charged with certain crimes.
In a 1999 compromise, the Oregon Legislature stripped away some of those legal protections but gave judges the authority to give lighter sentences to faith-healing parents. In recent years, Clackamas County authorities have successfully prosecuted two couples for the preventable deaths of their children. Things are moving in the right direction.
Still, Oregon remains a national outlier for its level of deference toward faith-based crime.
Oregon should get rid of its remaining double standards. Juries have proved themselves to be fully capable of taking faith into account as they weigh criminal intent, much as they consider addiction and other factors in other sad cases involving children.
Meanwhile, maybe we should spend more time studying the photographs of these kids. The smiling ones, now gone. The injured ones, now recovering.
These children might not fully appreciate Oregon’s treatment of faith healing as an abstract intellectual issue, one requiring lots of discussion plus the perfect blend of libertarian distance and liberal tolerance.
Given a choice, they might prefer more action, fewer words.