Parents who relied on faith healing are cleared in baby's death

Denver Rocky Mountain News / August 18, 2000

GRAND JUNCTION - No charges will be filed against the parents of a 2-day-old boy who died of complications from a heart defect without ever seeing a doctor, though the district attorney suggested their refusal to seek medical care was "a remnant of the Dark Ages."

Billy and Barbara Reed of Clifton chose prayer over doctors to heal their son, Billy Ray, when his color started to worsen and he had trouble breathing. He died July 9.

"I strongly favor the right of individuals to pray for the sick and infirm," Mesa County District Attorney Frank Daniels said Thursday. "But the use of prayer to the absolute exclusion of medical care is a remnant of the Dark Ages. This practice endangers children."

Mesa County Coroner Rob Kurtzman ruled earlier this month that the manner of death was undetermined, saying the evidence did not warrant a ruling of homicide.

Daniels agreed with Kurtzman that the death could have been prevented had Billy Ray received routine medical care or been monitored by doctors. But both said the boy's caregivers may not have known how severe Billy Ray's problems were before he died.

"They clearly wanted to do the best for their child," Daniels said in a written statement. Barbara Reed, 23, said the family did not want to comment. The Reeds belong to the General Assembly Church of the First Born, a close-knit Christian sect that believes God has the sovereign power to heal. Billy Ray was born and died at home with church members praying around him. The Reeds could have been charged under Colorado child-abuse law, but an exception can be made for members of faith-healing sects.

However, that exception also includes a clause saying a parent's religious rights should not limit a child's access to medical care in life-threatening situations. Daniels has lobbied to repeal the faith-healing exception and has called the statute unclear.

"In my opinion, the current statutory scheme is seriously flawed and should be changed," he said Thursday.

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