Woman: Childbirth deaths frequent for church members
CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. – Mothers and their newborns in an Oregon City church that practices faith healing routinely died during or shortly after birth because medical help was not sought, one former member said Wednesday.
These revelations came to light after an infant boy died over the weekend. The mother, who is a member of the Followers of Christ church, allegedly had complications before giving birth. Church members prayed over her Friday night, and the baby was born Saturday afternoon. But it died early Sunday morning.
Myrna Cunningham, who was born without the aid of a doctor 68 years ago into the church, said that this was a common occurrence.
She also said her cousin’s daughter never went to a doctor even after her baby died inside her.
“Three days it took her to get toxic enough to die,” she said. “Can you imagine that? Gosh, that’s why I don’t see any of them.”
Dr. Larry Lewman, from the state medical examiner’s office, told of similar cases last year after 15-month-old Ava Worthington died. Her parents were arrested and her father Carl Worthington served 60 days in jail. Her mother, Raylene, was acquitted of a mistreatment charge.
Lewman studied the church in the late 1990s when three children died in a short amount of time.
“There were also during that period – it wasn’t publicized much – four perfectly healthy mothers, pregnant, who died during child birth from puerperal sepsis. That’s an infection that doesn’t even occur today,” Lewman said. “You read about it in the textbooks from the 1910s – the pre-antibiotic era. None of these women should have died - three of their children died. It was all perfectly treatable, and they literally suffered for days.”
Cunningham said there is hope. She said some members now go to doctors and educated midwives help with some births. But she said she still worries more children will needlessly die because their parents choose to only pray and not call doctors even when their children are gravely ill.
“Anybody who could just let their baby just die, don’t you just think that’s the worst thing?” she said.
As far as the most recent case, Clackamas County detectives are still trying to determine if Oregon’s spiritual-healing law was broken.
The baby in the current case was premature and multiple sources close to the family said the mother had complications several days before she gave birth.