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80 Child Deaths Linked to Oregon Church, Parents Say It is a Matter of Faith

A church in Oregon has been linked to over 80 child deaths since 1976. Parents in the fundamental Pentecostal sect, however, claim that the kids’ deaths are just a matter of their deeply held faith.

Church of the First Born preaches that their members-even young children-should forego medical treatment and instead rely on God alone. This belief extends even to the treatment of manageable disease and chronic conditions, such as pneumonia and diabetes.

So when Syble Rossiter’s teacher told her parents that she was worried that the 12-year-old had lost a considerable amount of weight in a single month and looked in ill-health, her parents did not take her to the doctor.

Instead, they relied on the church’s teachings and prayer and watched their once-vibrant little girl wither away and die from complications of untreated diabetes.

Unbelievably, Syble’s mother, Wenona, was well aware of the risks of refusing treatment. As a young person, she watched her 7-year-old brother die from a treatable form of leukemia when her own parents refused to seek medical help.

Her brother’s death led to the both her parents being charged in his death. Wenona’s father received probation for his part in the crime. Her mother was acquitted.

That did not stop Wenona from choosing to forgo treatment for her own child when she was ill however. Now, Wenona and her husband are facing similar charges in the death of their own daughter.

Yet while the Rossiter’s decision could land them in jail in Oregon,  in some states, it is still perfectly legal for parents to deny medical care or rely on unproven faith-based methods for their child, based on their religious beliefs.

Just months after Syble’s death, the American Academy of Pediatrics urged lawmakers to consider legislation in all states that would help kids get the care they need regardless of their family’s faith or face prosecution.

“I think it’s important that all children get appropriate medical care, that state policies should be clear about the obligations to provide this care and that state monies directed toward medical care should be used for established and effective therapies,” said Dr. Armand Antommaria of the AAP.

According to Rita Swan of CHILD, Syble’s case is the exception and  in many states Syble’s parents would not have faced charges at all in their child’s death.

As a result of a lack of legislation protecting these kids, she said, “scores” of children in America are dying each year in America when help is as close as the nearest hospital.

Syble’s parents’ trial in Oregon is now underway.



Photo Credit: Screenshot

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.