Update: July 2018. There is a follow up post to this one, which you can find here.
Last week, news broke in Oregon of a Clackamas County Sheriff’s investigation into the death of an infant girl who passed away hours after being born. The mother, Sarah Mitchell, gave birth to twins on Sunday, March 5th. She and her husband, Travis Lee Mitchell, are both members of the Followers of Christ Church, a small faith-healing church in Oregon and Oklahoma that has been linked to many deaths of infants and young children over the years.
The surviving daughter was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit of a nearby hospital and she is now expected to survive. The girls were born prematurely, and when one of them began developing breathing problems shortly after birth neither the parents nor the midwives present called for emergency help. They allowed the girl to die because of their beliefs.
Finally, a church elder called the medical examiner for the deceased newborn, and it was the medical examiner who determined that the surviving infant needed medical attention. The medical examiner called the authorities and persuaded the Mitchells to allow their daughter to be admitted to the NICU.
This is far from an isolated incident, even in the Mitchells’ family. Sarah Mitchell’s sister and brother-in-law were sentenced to more than six years in prison in 2011 for allowing their newborn son to die in 2009 a few hours after he was born. And the Followers of Christ Church in general has a history of children and infants getting very sick or dying as a result of their parents commitment to the church's faith healing practices. Their history of child endangerment has become so worrisome that in 2011 the Oregon legislature removed spiritual healing as a defense against charges of homicide.
This is similar, in a way, to what we are seeing in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York City where many cases of infant boys contracting herpes from their circumcision has caused a lot of controversy. The Jewish tradition of metzitzah b’peh involves the mohel, the one performing the circumcision, to suck the blood from the infant’s penis with his mouth. Since the year 2000 there have been at least 24 cases of herpes infection in infant boys because of this practice. Two boys suffered brain damage and another two died as a result of their infection. Just like the cases involving the members of the Followers of Christ Church, we have parents who are willing to endanger, or even kill, their children because of their commitment to ridiculous ancient fairy tales.
These parents are beyond misguided. They are so tragically delusional that they are willing to watch their own children suffer and die, in some cases slowly and painfully. These poor children are the ones who suffer the most because of their parents’ ridiculous beliefs.
Religion has more and more to answer for with each passing day.