OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) Two years to the day after their newborn son died, two parents accused of choosing faith healing over medical care said Tuesday (Sept. 27) that given the chance, they would do nothing differently.
Dale and Shannon Hickman are charged with second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide medical care for their son David, who was born in 2009 two months premature and lived less than nine hours.
After the Hickmans and other church members testified, defense attorneys rested their case on Tuesday, and jurors were scheduled to begin deliberations on Wednesday.
The Hickmans’ responses—at times tearful, terse or testy—shed some light on the religious beliefs and practices of the Followers of Christ, the Oregon City faith-healing church that the Hickmans and their relatives have attended for generations.
The Hickmans said they never considered calling 911 after David was born because the baby’s condition changed instantly, and he died within minutes.
David was premature but healthy, pink and crying and the couple saw no reason to panic, Dale Hickman said. He recalled that he was awakened around 2:15 a.m. by a female relative who was caring for the baby, and found the boy struggling to breathe, ashen and listless.
Dale Hickman anointed his son with oil, a common faith-healing ritual. The baby died minutes later. Under questioning from prosecutors, Hickman said he did not call 911 even though he knew his son was dying.
Questioned about pediatricians who testified that the boy had a 99.9 percent chance of surviving with medical care, Hickman said he still believes that nothing could have been done to save the boy’s life.
Although Shannon Hickman professed devotion to her children—the couple has a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-month-old son—she said she follows a biblical directive to always defer to her husband.
Even if she wanted to call 911, Shannon Hickman said she would not do so without her husband’s permission, she told prosecutor John Wentworth.
“I can say what I feel, but ultimately, he decides. It’s kind of a fine line because I don’t want to disobey him or anger him,” she said. “If I gave him my opinion, and he told me to shut up and I didn’t, then my marriage could be in jeopardy. I have to submit to my husband.”
Asked if, in retrospect, she thought it would have been a good idea to call 911, she said no. “That’s not my decision anyway,” she said. “I think it’s God’s will whatever happens.”
(Steve Mayes writes for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.)