Religious Freedom? Parents Refuse Medical Care for Dying Newborn

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Jury selection began on Monday in the manslaughter trial of an Oregon couple who refused to seek medical care for their premature newborn baby who soon died. They are the latest parents who are members of a church which shuns traditional medical treatment to watch their child die.

According to a report in The Oregonian, Shannon Hickman gave birth to a baby boy in September 2009. He was two months premature and weighed just three-pounds, five-ounces. Female church members who are midwives delivered the baby.

Shannon and her husband Dale said the baby looked healthy when he suddenly took a turn for the worse. His skin turned gray and his breathing became labored. It turns he had a bacterial infection in his under-developed lungs. He died nine hours after being born.

The Hickmans are now charged with second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors are expected to argue that the couple caused their son's death by not getting medical care. They say this started at conception -- despite a history of miscarriages, Shannon Hickman never saw a doctor.

The defense contends that there was nothing the couple could have done after the baby was born -- even if they rushed to a hospital the baby would have died. They will also argue that religious freedom played a role in their decision-making process.

This case is different from those of other members of the Followers of Christ church who have faced similar charges. In those cases, it took a while for the children to die; days or weeks while the parents stood by and did nothing. Here, the death was almost instantaneous.

The trial is expected to last about five weeks.


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