Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Probation due to third faith healing death in family

A couple did not bring their child to a doctor for treatment, but prayed. The child’s medical condition was appendicitis. The result was death.

Appendicitis does respond to real medical treatment. The death rate was less than 0.1% a couple of decades ago.[1],[2] Now there is much more laparascopic surgery, so when there is a surgical treatment, the outcome should be better, but medical treatment is most often not surgical.

This couple did not know anything about appendicitis, but thought they knew enough about prayer to just pray.

The Bellews were arrested in February after an autopsy revealed that 16-year-old Austin Sprout had died two months earlier from an infection that resulted from a ruptured appendix. The teen was Brandi Bellew’s biological child and Russel Bellew’s stepson.[3]


There is no valid evidence that prayer improves outcomes from appendicitis. This death does nothing to support the use of prayer as a treatment. People claim that there are examples of prayer healing, but anyone can come up with anecdote, but if something works, then it works under testable circumstances, too. Anecdote-based treatments repeatedly fail in controlled environments, because they are based on bias.

Controlled environments eliminate bias as much as possible.

Asser and Swan documented 127 deaths of children over a 20 year period whose parents relied on faith‐healing instead of getting their children medical care for serious illnesses that were potentially treatable.24 The number of child deaths resulting from neglect is most likely much higher than recorded because of officials’ reluctance to blame a grieving parent for an “accident”.3 [4]


Image credit.
Medicine works.

Medicine works with prayer.

Medicine works without prayer.

Prayer works with medicine.

Russel and Brandi Bellew each pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Lane County Circuit Court to charges of criminally negligent homicide, as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

The Bellews — who are members of a church that generally believes in using prayer instead of modern medicine to treat illnesses — avoided jail in the plea deal, but will spend the next five years on probation. During that time, they will be required to contact a doctor whenever any of their six surviving children suffer from an ailment that causes them to miss school for more than one day.[3]

Does that punishment seem harsh?

What are the chances of the same thing happening to someone else in the family?


The Bellews married after both were widowed. Hasselman said their previous spouses both died from infections that would have been “highly treatable” had they sought medical attention.[3]

They could keep remarrying and bringing more children and parents in for sacrifice on the altar of medical neglect.

Did they have any other children die due to medical neglect?

We don’t know. The only way this was discovered was because someone at the funeral home contacted the medical examiner about the death.

Maybe prayer works without medicine, but do you really want to bet the lives of your children on that possibility?

Cemetery – at least 3                         Prayer – 0

The cemetery is filling up.


[1] Mortality after appendectomy in Sweden, 1987-1996.
Blomqvist PG, Andersson RE, Granath F, Lambe MP, Ekbom AR.
Ann Surg. 2001 Apr;233(4):455-60.
PMID: 11303128 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from PubMed Central.

Click on image to make it larger.

As many people died in his family (due to lack of treatment) as among all of the 37,098 patients who were in the 10 to 19 year old patients treated for appendicitis.

[2] Incidence and case fatality rates for acute appendicitis in California. A population-based study of the effects of age.
Luckmann R.
Am J Epidemiol. 1989 May;129(5):905-18. Erratum in: Am J Epidemiol 1990 Jun;131(6):1102.
PMID: 2784936 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

[3] Probation in son’s death
The parents relied on prayer instead of a doctor to heal their child, who died after his appendix ruptured

By Jack Moran
The Register-Guard
Published: September 19, 2012 12:00AM

[4] The relation between child death and child maltreatment.
Jenny C, Isaac R.
Arch Dis Child. 2006 Mar;91(3):265-9. Review.

PMID: 16492892 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from PubMed Central.



  1. Well, Rogue Medic, would you have forcefully removed this 16 year old from her home and against her parent’s wishes?

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