Jury selection begins for an Oregon couple whose unwavering faith in divine healing led to the death of their newborn child.
Dale and Shannon Hickman are charged with second-degree manslaughter for the death of their baby David, after the couple failed to seek adequate medical care that could have saved his life.
The Hickmans are members of the Followers of Christ, an Oregon City faith-healing church that has a long history of children dying from curable conditions because their parents rejected medical care due to radical religious beliefs.
The couple is the fourth family from the church to be prosecuted for failing to seek adequate medical care for a child.
David, who was born two months premature and weighed just three pounds five ounces, developed a bacterial infection and died after living only nine hours. Shannon did not give birth in the hospital, rather female church members who claimed to be midwives assisted her.
The trial is expected to last five weeks. Prosecutors will argue that the couple’s faith-based aversion to mainstream medical care caused their son’s death.
“’At the time the baby took his first breath’ the Hickmans had an absolute obligation to provide adequate care,” said Mike Regan, deputy district attorney in a pre-trial hearing, according to the Oregonian.
The Hickmans claimed when David was born he appeared healthy but his skin suddenly became grey and his breathing labored. According to reports, Dale held his newborn son, prayed and anointed him with oil before David died minutes later.
Prosecutors will argue that David’s death was foreseeable because Shannon did not seek prenatal care during her pregnancy, and the couple failed to seek medical care when David was born, UPI reported. On the other hand, the defense will contend that even if the Hickmans went to a hospital or called an ambulance, David would have died before help arrived.
Reports say the issue of religious freedom will likely surface during the Hickman trial. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a law in June that eliminates spiritual treatment as a defense against all homicide charges and subject parents to mandatory sentencing under Oregon’s Measure 11, UPI reported.
Nearly 300 children have died in the U.S. in the last 25 years after medical care was withheld on religious grounds, reported Rita Swan, executive director of Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty, according to the NYTimes.