A public hearing will be held this afternoon, in Salem, concerning HB 2721, which seeks to eliminate reliance on spiritual treatment as a defense for certain crimes in which the victim is under 18 years of age.
As The Oregonian reported yesterday, the bill is a response to several cases over the years in which members of the Oregon City church, Followers of Christ, were held responsible for the deaths of children from treatable medical conditions.
In a telephone interview this morning, State Representative Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), said that she has been working on the bill since last spring and that she and the bill’s co-sponsors, introduced it during this legislative session partially in response to the recent case of Alana Wyland.
In July of last year, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland lost custody of Alana for failing to seek proper medical care for a severe eye condition. She had developed a mass that covered her eye and was at risk of going blind as a result. The Wylands, who belong to the Followers of Christ Church, had avoided medical care in favor of prayer, and a judge at the time placed the baby under the care of the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Ultimately, however, the baby was returned to her parents, in October, on the condition that they pursue medical treatment for her, which they have. Nevertheless, their case — for which they are charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment — is scheduled for trial May.
Rep. Tomei plans to use the Wyland case and photographs of the child to illustrate the need for legislation to protect children. “You should see the photos of the abuse this child suffered at the hands of her parents,” she said. “It’s inexcusable, it’s abominable, it’s reprehensible. An animal would not have treated their child this way.”
While there is some variation among states regarding laws about faith healing and child welfare, there is much less than there was, say, ten years ago, according to Robert W. Tuttle, a professor of law at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and an expert on such issues. “In tightening up their law, Oregon would not be out of the mainstream,” he said via telephone this afternoon. “Many other states are currently doing that in terms of excluding exemptions for faith in cases where there is a death, or even substantial injury.”
With nine co-sponsors, there is significant support for the Oregon measure. The House Judiciary Committee hearing will be open to the public. They will meet at 1 p.m. today in Room 343 of the Capitol in Salem. Tomei says she hopes that people will “see the need to protect children and (see to it) that they have a chance to thrive and to live.”