Even my rather extreme proficiency with profanity is insufficient for the task.
The two small graves lie in the southeastern section of the old cemetery, near a stand of pine. They are surrounded by the resting places of other infants, many of whom never received first names: here is a placard denoting Baby Girl White, and another for Baby Boy Morris. Only a few life spans are commemorated, and many of these are shockingly short: weeks, days and even hours. Russ Briggs comes here often; he cannot stay away. "Those two, right there, those are my boys," he says, his voice cracking. "I could have saved them, but I let them die."
Briggs doesn't know for sure what killed his sons, but he believes that "if there had been an incubator, or modern medicine, I know they would have made it." So might many of the children surrounding them. Recently the Portland exurb of Oregon City has been shaken by what appears to be an ongoing horror in its midst. In June, Oregon state medical examiner Larry Lewman stated suspicions about the cemetery's owners, the 1,200-member Followers of Christ church. Over 10 years, he alleges, the faith-healing congregation's avoidance of doctors and hospitals may have cost the lives of 25 children, some under excruciating circumstances. A series by the Oregonian newspaper announced that of 78 minors buried in the graveyard over 35 years, 21 "probably would have lived with medical intervention, often as simple as antibiotics." If so, the cemetery may represent one of the largest concentrations of faith-healing-related fatalities in decades. [emphasis added]
Just... goddamn. And if that isn't enough to make you think, try this:
A report in the April issue of the professional journal Pediatrics documented 140 child deaths "from religion-motivated medical neglect" between 1975 and 1995, attributed to 23 religious denominations in 34 states. Its co-author, Texas critical-care pediatrician Seth Asser, believes there are hundreds of similar, unreported fatalities. "Kids die from accidental deployment of air bags, and you get hearings in Congress," says Asser. "But this goes on, and dozens die, and people think there's no problem because the deaths happen one at a time. Yet the kids who die suffer horribly. This is Jonestown in slow motion."
He [Larry Lewman, Oregon State Medical Examiner] says one shocking case was that of Alex Dale Morris, a four-year-old who complained of fever in February 1989. Fellow Followers laid hands on Alex, anointed him with oil and prayed over him for 46 days. On Day 44, a police officer acting on a tip paid a call but left after the boy himself claimed good health. Alex died two days later; his autopsy revealed an infection had filled one entire side of his chest with pus. Basic antibiotics, says Lewman, could have saved him.
The death Gustafson considered prosecuting was of Bo Phillips, 11, last February. Bo suffered a diabetic crisis and was treated with liquids, prayer and anointings. County sheriff's detective Jeff Green recalls arriving at the Phillips house to find 200 or more church members. Bo's body "was lying in bed, covered with a sheet. His eyes were sunk into his head, and his face was completely yellow. The suffering that boy must have endured..." Bo's parents, says Green, were devastated, but "I kept asking the father why he let the boy die, and the answer boiled down to what he told me flat out: 'It was my choice.'"
I support religious freedom rather strongly, but I admit this bothers the hell out of me. It's one thing to refuse treatment for yourself, as an adult, but to refuse it on behalf of your child? I don't think even the selfish, egotistical god of the old testament would ask for that kind of sacrifice.*
* Okay, so, he totally would, but give me a break here, okay? For once I'm cutting the guy some slack.