Had little Alayna’s religious parents really neglected their own flesh and blood?
When Alayna Wyland was born in December 2009, she had a birthmark over one eye. Over time, it developed into an abnormal growth of blood vessels, known by doctors as a hemangioma.
When she was 6 months old, social workers arrived at her home in Oregon, USA, and discovered the bulging mass engulfing Alayna’s left eye and leaking gloopy discharge.
Most parents would have been backwards and forwards to the doctor’s constantly. But not the Wylands. Weirdly, Rebecca, 22, and Timothy, 43, hadn’t taken her once.
Authorities discovered that the couple were members of the Followers of Christ Church.
Described by some as a ‘cult’, members were said to practice faith healing – an ancient tradition of healing the sick through prayer and rituals.
Social workers removed Alayna from their care. Doctors said that her condition was so advanced, she might go blind.
Rebecca and Timothy were accused of risking their daughter’s health by deliberately not seeking medical help. They denied it. Even said they were being persecuted by social workers, who had it in for them because of their religion.
Alayna remained in state care and her parents were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment of their child. The charge came just days after the state had passed a bill to be tougher on faith-healing parents.
At the trial in June 2011, photos shown in court suggested that, at one point, the bulging area on Alayna’s left eye had grown as big as a baseball.
Unthinkable! Without the state-ordered treatment, she might have lost the eye.
Authorities claimed that Timothy and Rebecca had admitted believing that prayer, anointing oils and ‘laying of hands’ – where ministers put their hands on believers while praying – would heal Alayna.
There was even a recording of them saying medical treatment violated their beliefs. But the couple’s lawyers portrayed them as loving parents and pointed out that they’d fully co-operated with court orders once Alayna was in state custody.
Crucially, Alayna had now been returned to them under state supervision.
The Wylands were motivated by ‘strong religious convictions’, not by ‘evil intent’, said Rebecca’s attorney.
Timothy’s lawyer alleged that the Wylands were victims of religious persecution. But the prosecution lawyer said that this was a smokescreen…
‘This is a case about child abuse,’ she said, telling the court that Alayna was unlikely to regain normal vision.
The Wylands continued to protest their innocence. They said that they loved their daughter and would never mean her harm…. So what was the real story?
Were the Wylands saints or sinners? Could these seemingly gentle parents really have risked their daughter’s health? Or were they being used as an example, to promote a new law for stamping out faith healing…?
Jurors found the couple guilty of criminal mistreatment. They were sentenced to 90 days in prison and three years probation.
Timothy Wyland was taken into custody to start his sentence. His wife would start her term on his release.
By Rachel Tompkins