PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For years, KOIN 6 News has been following stories of children who died because they didn’t receive medical care. They all belong to an Oregon City church called Followers of Christ.
In Oregon, laws have been changed to protect the kids and four sets of parents have been charged. But faith healing is still allowed in Idaho by branches of the same church, and children are still dying.
On a serene, windswept hill outside of Boise is a cemetery called Peaceful Valley. It is where some Followers of Christ members bury their dead. Of the more than 550 graves, at least 144 appear to be of children under 18 years old. At least 12 of those children have been buried since 2011, including Garret Dean Eells. The coroner said he died from untreated pneumonia. He was six days old.
Another headstone belongs to 15-year-old Arrian Granden. According to the coroner, she got food poisoning and threw up so much she ruptured her esophagus. She wasn’t taken to a doctor.
Many of the other children buried at the cemetery also died of treatable illnesses, like diabetes.
A former church member, Linda Martin, is trying to convince lawmakers in Idaho to do what Oregon did.
“These are not things children die of in our time, this is what children died of back in the 1800s, not in the 2000s,” says Martin. Martin grew up in Idaho as a member of the Followers of Christ. Now, she lives in Oregon, but often travels to Boise to lobby lawmakers to remove faith healing protections that prevent parents from being prosecuted for the death of a child.
This is her third attempt to reach lawmakers like Lee Heider. The Republican is chair of the Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
“If someone approaches me wanting to carry that legislation, then yes, I’ll hold a hearing. I can’t guarantee the outcome of the hearing. I can’t tell you what the other members of my committee would choose to do with that legislation but if someone chooses to do that I would be the first to stand up and give them the right to bring that legislation forward,” Heider says.
The Idaho Attorney General has proposed changes to the law, as well as the Governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk, Child Fatality Review Team. The panel looked at two kids who died in 2012 and determined “that both of these deaths may have been prevented with proper and timely medical treatment.”
But Martin continues to fight an uphill battle in a state where parental rights reign supreme.
“I’ve spoken to several legislators and there’s been no plan on presenting a bill.”
In 2014, a Democrat introduced a bill to change the faith healing laws. It never got to the house floor for a vote.