Oregon set to remove faith healing defense for parents

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May 26 2011 10:30 AM

Oregon set to remove faith healing defense for parents

[Note: I expect to hear some disagreement over my statements in this post. If you are going to comment, PLEASE read the whole post first, and then read my post "When belief kills" before leaving your comment. That should minimize misunderstanding about where I stand on this. Thank you.]

In February, I wrote that in Oregon a bill was being proposed to the state legislature that would remove the defense of religious belief in the case of homicide. Specifically, if the bill passes, parents who use faith healing instead of real medicine for their children can face murder or manslaughter charges if the child dies due to lack of medical care.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  


In March, the Oregon State House unanimously approved the bill. On Monday, the Senate approved it 25 - 5. It will now go back to the House for any changes to reconcile the versions. After that, it will be sent to the governor where he will sign it, and it will become state law.

This law would apply to anyone who does not seek medical care for their child, but the situation has become urgent of late because a fringe group called Followers of Christ advocates faith healing instead of real medicine, and several children have died or been seriously injured because of it.

I stated my opinion on this in my earlier post:

Stories like this always leave me conflicted. As a parent myself I always want the best possible medical treatment for my child, and I don't want other groups interfering with that decision. However, the State has a right to protect the best interests of that child in case the parent cannot. Decades worth of evidence has shown that faith healing does not work, and in many cases the children in the Followers of Christ church had easily treatable illnesses and needn't have died.

In the end, the right thing to do is save that sick child. If the parent cannot, then the greater society has the responsibility to do that.

I still think this is true. One of the very reasons we have a society in the first place is to be able to help people who cannot help themselves. Children fall squarely into that category. And we know faith healing is not a legitimate medical practice. For a serious illness, it is essentially a death sentence.

I support the Oregon legislature on this difficult decision. In these times of such stiff religious influence on government, this is a welcome sign of resistance.

Tip o' the gavel to The Secular Coalition of America, via Liz Gaston and Ashley Miller on Facebook.

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