Trial begins this week in Clackamas County for the death of Dale and Shannon Hickman’s baby, another faith-healing death sparking much debate in Oregon.
The Hickmans are the fourth couple to be prosecuted in the county for failing to seek proper medical care for their newborn child based on their religious beliefs, which value prayer, laying of hands, and anointing of oil over modern medicine, according to The Oregonian.
Favoring faith-based care over mainstream medical treatments, the two chose to deliver their baby not through a doctor, but through midwives who attended their church, Followers of Christ, widely known for its controversial faith-related deaths.
At the time of the birth, their baby, David Hickman, was born two months premature and weighed only three pounds and five ounces, The Oregonian reported.
Though David had underdeveloped lungs, his parents believed he appeared healthy. However, things took a turn for the worse in a matter of moments, when David’s skin began turning grey and his breathing became more difficult.
An autopsy later revealed that the baby had died of a bacterial infection in his lungs.
While the defense is affirming that the baby would have died even if the Hickmans had gone to a hospital or called an ambulance, prosecutors are arguing that the couple could have done more before, during, and after the baby’s birth to ensure his safety.
District attorneys also brought to light the fact that the Hickmans had never been to a doctor for prenatal care even though Shannon had suffered a miscarriage the year before.
But defense attorneys believe the couple did nothing wrong and that the death of their baby was unforeseeable.
They also blamed the prosecution for attacking the couple for their religious beliefs, citing the fact that the D.A.’s office filed suit against their clients one year after David’s death occurred.
Their lawsuit appeared to coincide with another faith-healing case exposed in their church, where a couple by the name of Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were prosecuted for not taking their daughter to see a doctor when her eye contracted a strange growth.
The Wylands were sentenced to 90 days in jail and found guilty of criminal mistreatment. Their daughter was on the verge of losing her sight in one eye before the court ordered treatment that helped her condition improve.
Shortly after they were convicted, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed into law a measure that no longer protected parents who solely used faith healing for their children’s medical needs.
Without protection by the law, the Hickmans may now face jail time if found guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
The couple pleads not guilty to the charges. The trial is expected to last five weeks.