December 2015 Church & State | People & Events

The manslaughter conviction of an Oregon couple, who because of their religious faith refused to take their premature newborn to the hospital, was upheld recently by the state’s Supreme Court.

Dale and Shannon Hickman’s son, David, was born two months premature in 2009. He weighed less than four pounds. David contracted staph­ylo­coccus pneumonia, and a coroner said the infant would have had a 99 percent chance of survival had the Hickmans taken him to the hospital. They did not do so, they said, because it would have gone against the teachings of their church, which preaches faith healing over medicine. Instead, they anointed the boy with oil and prayed.

The couple was sentenced to six years in prison following a 2011 conviction for second-degree manslaughter. They then unsuccessfully appealed that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court. During his appeal trial, Dale Hickman said he suspected his son might not survive but chose to do nothing more than pray for him.

“Dale ran into the room where one of his aunts was holding David and anointed David’s head with olive oil and began to pray,” according to the Oct. 8 Supreme Court decision in Oregon v. Hickman. “He noticed that David was taking short breaths, was minimally responsive, and was lighter in color, so he took David into the bedroom where Shannon still lay. At that point, it was ‘in the back of [DALE’S] mind’ that David would not survive. He sat in a chair by the bed, held David in his arms, and prayed.”

Both Hickmans testified during the trial that even in hindsight, they would not have done anything differently to save their son.

“They maintained that they did not believe that anything was medically wrong with David after he was born, despite his prematurity,” the court noted in its decision. “And by the time they realized that David was having medical complications, they believed that it was too late – that he would have died before an ambulance could have responded.”