Living on a Prayer: Why Does God Kill So Many Children in Idaho?

Nov 19, 2014

By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh

On Feb. 5, 2013, just weeks before her 13th birthday, Syble Rossiter was at home in Albany, Oregon, gasping for breath and in critical condition. For most of the afternoon, her family had watched as she vomited violently and lost control of her bowels, eventually becoming so weak she could no longer stand. In the hours leading up to her final, fevered breaths, as Syble slowly drifted into unconsciousness and ultimately death, her parents never called a doctor or rushed her to an emergency room. As members of the General Assembly Church of the First Born, a faith-healing Christian sect, they believed that seeking medical help for their daughter would be a sign of spiritual weakness and an affront against God’s will. Instead, Travis and Wenona Rossiter tried to cure her with prayer. 

Inside the Linn County Courthouse this month, the Rossiters and their defense attorneys watched silently as prosecutor Keith Stein presented images of Syble that authorities had taken at the crime scene. Gaunt and pale, the girl’s body was seated upright on her family’s living room couch in a red shirt and a pair of urine-soaked jeans. Her eyes were sunken, and her body looked dehydrated. From the witness stand, Dr. Gary Goby, the county’s medical examiner, told the jury that Syble had died from complications of a chronic and undiagnosed case of Type 1 diabetes, adding that a simple treatment of insulin and fluids could have saved her life.

Because of their inaction, the prosecutor argued, Travis and Wenona Rossiter were directly responsible for their daughter’s death. “This case is not about their religion,” he told the jurors. “It’s about the minimum standard of medical care that our laws will tolerate when it comes to our children.” The Rossiters’ defense lawyers claimed that the family had thought she only had the flu, but the jury was ultimately unmoved. Last week, the Rossiters were convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter, which in Oregon carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.

The verdict is the latest in a string of convictions of faith healers who endanger their children in Oregon, where officials have been empowered by some of the strictest laws in the country since 2011, when the state eliminated the last of its religious-defense statutes. Oregon has successfully prosecuted three similar cases in the last three years, putting mothers and fathers in jail on charges of criminal mistreatment, negligent homicide and manslaughter, and sending a message to other faith-healing families that they must seek medical care for their children. 

Just across the state line in Idaho, however, there are no such deterrents. During the same period of time, at least 12 children have died at the hands of faith-healing parents in the state, yet not a single charge has been filed. In Idaho, authorities do not investigate or prosecute faith-healing deaths, which occur largely without scrutiny from the public or media. Of the dozen documented cases in the last three years—and there are likely many more that have gone unreported—all were members of the Followers of Christ, a faith-healing group with a doctrine nearly identical to the Church of the First Born. The Followers are also active in Oregon, where they gained notoriety in the 1990s after a series of high-profile child deaths.

The stark contrast over a span of a few highway miles is not lost on Linda Martin, an Idaho native and former member of the Followers of Christ who attended the Rossiters’ trial in Oregon. 


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21 comments on “Living on a Prayer: Why Does God Kill So Many Children in Idaho?

  • I always thought that Idaho was famous for its potatoes. A form of life that lives underground and out of the light. Potatoes have no need to think, nor to take exercise, and to whom the Mediterranean diet is a nonsense. But I didn’t realise that the Idaho potatoes were so thick skinned as to allow their potential frites to waste away.



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  • Come on America. This is 2014. This is not good enough. If ever there was an example of religiously motivated stupidity with lethal consequences, this is it. This is what I argue for. The sidelining of religious idiocy to consenting adults in private, where it can do no harm.

    If there is a religious person reading this news article, come in here and defend it.



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  • If there is a religious person reading this news article, come in here and defend it.

    Careful, you might to be accused of blaming all religious people for this. Or all Christians for that matter.

    The medical examiner said:

    “This case is not about their religion,” he told the jurors. “It’s about the minimum standard of medical care that our laws will tolerate when it comes to our children.”

    Reminds me of Obama’s “ISIL is not Islamic”. We are back to the no true faith question.



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  • If some people get a get out of jail free exemption on religious grounds, everyone should get it. The law is supposed to treat everyone equally. It is not supposed to create a privileged class.

    So if John Christian can kill his kids by giving them quack medicine, so should Cade Atheist.

    Looking at this another way, why are children left unprotected from whacko Christian parents but not from whacko Atheist parents. Surely Christian kids deserve equal protection. This is unconstitutional discrimination against Christian children.



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  • A couple of other relevant issues come to mind here. As the prosecutor quoted in the article stated, it is not about religion it is about minimum standards of health care for children. If that truly is the case, then where are the prosecutions concerning the systemic exclusion of children from the health care system due to the fact that their parents simply cannot afford it? Why is the full weight of the justice system not brought to bear on those hospitals that refuse admission to children whose parents cannot pay? It is estimated that there are around 50 million Americans who have no medical insurance and thus no access to medical care and that around 45,000 die every year because of that. (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/09/new-study-finds-45000-deaths-annually-linked-to-lack-of-health-coverage/)

    I suspect that the real issue here is not minimum care but rather a health care regime determined to stamp out all opposition to it.



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  • I have no doubt that if one can afford health care in the US that they will then get nothing but the best, but my point was about the systemic exclusion of 50 million Americans from health care based on inability to afford it. If getting health care to children is a value requiring the criminal prosecution of parents who choose some alternative then why do we not see the criminal prosecution of hospitals that refuse treatment to those who cannot pay?

    john



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  • The medical examiner is wrong. He likely feels intimidated by the possibility of being labelled anti-Christian if he criticizes religion.

    But let’s not make a mistake here. It IS about religion. 100%. These children are being denied proper treatment specifically because of their parent’s particular bizarre religious beliefs.

    Were it not for those beliefs, those children would have very likely been treated and even more likely be alive today.

    But they’re not. And that’s because of religion.



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  • According to the CIA the USA ranks lowest of all the developed countries in terms of infant mortality, the measure the UN uses of health care quality. It is on par with Cuba, which has a much smaller budget.

    I am sure the Gates family babies have a low risk of death, but there are many other citizens who get no health care at all.

    The US system is very wasteful. I had a friend who was a hospital administrator. She showed me that a modern hospital has a huge number of rooms full of people doing paperwork. There are none in Canada. Also they track every aspirin. The tracking costs more than the aspirin. They would be better to bundle such fees into a daily room fee.

    If doctors and hospitals billed a single payer with computer billing and a standard set of rules it would save an immense amount of busywork by highly skilled physicians who should be doing medicine. The single biller could then sort out the payments to insurance companies

    Lawsuits are another problems. American sue if they don’t get precisely the outcome they wished for, completely independently of whether the doctor did anything wrong. Heck, they will sue just to get money even if they got a perfect outcome. Perhaps the doctor should get $1 million if the plaintiff fails to make his case, or at least his legal fees.

    circa 1995 a wealthy friend got a shard of glass in her eye when a boulder crashed through the windshield. She had the best insurance. Getting her seen by emergency took about 3 hours in an Oregon hospital, and filling in stacks of multipart paper forms before they would even look at her eye. The same thing in Canada would take 3 seconds to swipe your medical card.



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  • Roedy Nov 21, 2014 at 4:59 am

    If doctors and hospitals billed a single payer with computer billing and a standard set of rules it would save an immense amount of busywork by highly skilled physicians who should be doing medicine. The single biller could then sort out the payments to insurance companies.

    When I was taken by emergency ambulance for an operation and a week in hospital (summer before last), following an accident tree felling, the only paperwork was checking my National Insurance number, medicines list, and advice sheet, on discharge – followed by an appointment for a check-up.

    Using the UK National health Service means there is no paperwork with insurance companies, no arguments about what is included in policies, and no bills to patients. There are no charges for visits to doctors or hospitals. Costs are funded by National Insurance deductions from salaries along with “Pay as You Earn” Income Tax.

    Only medicines are paid for at standard prescription rates at pharmacies. NHS dental treatment IS paid for by patients at standard rates for check-ups, fillings, crowns etc.

    This may be one of the reasons why a service with greater coverage, is provided at less than half the US price!

    Unfortunately, our sponsored stooge politicians, are trying to privatise services and bring in US companies “to create a market”.



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  • Morgan Nov 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    The medical examiner is wrong. He likely feels intimidated by the possibility of being labelled anti-Christian if he criticizes religion.

    But let’s not make a mistake here. It IS about religion. 100%. These children are being denied proper treatment specifically because of their parent’s particular bizarre religious beliefs.

    You are right, but I think he is simply guarding himself from the almost inevitable claim of, “This is a bigoted attack on our (allegedly “reasonable”) religion”. –
    It is not! It is about responsible parenting and health care!



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  • Apparently this prayer stuff and “miracle healing, does not work in Zimbabwe either!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-30141535

    Eleven people have been killed in a stampede after a religious service in a stadium in Zimbabwe, police say.

    Four people died in the stadium in the central town of Kwekwe, while seven others were declared dead on arrival in hospital, they say.

    The stampede occurred as thousands of worshippers rushed to leave after the service by popular Pentecostal preacher Walter Magaya.

    He claims to be able to heal people by performing miracles.

    It seems when they had real injuries, members of the flock went to real hospitals, despite the presence of the “miracle-worker”, and recently subscribing to his collection plates!



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  • If we take this defense to it’s logical conclusion, religious parents should be allowed to kill their otherwise healthy children, on the ground that by doing so the kids are guaranteed a trip to heaven, whereas had they been allowed to grow up and become (sinful) adults it is likely not all of them would have received salvation.

    Some say this applies to only a tiny minority. However most Christians will tell you that the bible is the unerring word of God. So presumably when Abraham was willing to slaughter his child to follow God’s word, most Christians are OK with this. In fact their weasel workaround is something to the effect that since Jesus died for all of us, all that nasty old testament stuff, which was quite fine back in the day, is no longer kosher now. Idiots!



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