If parents fail to take their children to the doctor because of their belief in faith healing, when do they become criminally liable for harm to the children? Oregon's answer to this question has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. After years in which no prosecutions for faith-healing were brought, parents are now being prosecuted and convicted of negligent homicide and criminal mistreatment when they fail to obtain conventional medical care for their children. In the spring of 2013, two attorneys who were closely involved with some of these cases discussed the issues.
Hon. James C. Egan was elected to the Oregon Court of Appeals in November 2012 after having served as a Linn County Circuit Court judge. Before going on the bench, he practiced personal injury and workers’ compensation law in Linn County for 25 years. In the early 1980s Egan was the pro bono attorney for a father charged with homicide after his child died from a medical condition treated only with prayer. The case, State v. Hays, was the first prosecution of parents who practice faith healing in Oregon. Egan graduated from the University of Oregon Law School in 1985.
Erin Zemper is an assistant district attorney in Lane County, Oregon. She was one of the prosecutors in the case of State v. Bellew and worked in Clackamas County during the time that faith healing cases were being prosecuted there several years ago.