According to The Oregonian, Neil Beagley was taken to the home of his grandmother, Norma Louise Beagley, where more than 60 Followers of Christ Church members held a faith-healing session that included anointing the boy with oil, 'laying on of hands' and praying for a cure (not best evidence treatments subjected to Cochrane review).
The Christian Science Church, who shun medical treatment due to their belief that disease is an illusion caused by sin, had successfully lobbied Oregon legislators to introduce a 'spiritual defense law' which protected parents who 'treated' their children with prayer rather than medicine from charges of first or second degree homicide. However, following a series of deaths, laws were passed in 1999 which required faith healing parents of ill children to seek medical help or risk prosecution.
A US-wide study estimated that 172 children died between 1975 and 1995 due to parental rejection of medical care on religious grounds, not including 78 deaths reported in Oregon from 1955-98 or 12 reported in Idaho from 1980-98 that were probably due to the faith healing practices of the Church of which the Beagleys were members (Seth Asser & Rita Swan, Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect, 101 Pediatrics 625, 626-629, Apr. 1998).
One of the authors of this study, Rita Swan, writes in a courageous article in The Humanist:
My husband Douglas and I were devout, lifelong Christian Scientists until 1977 when we lost our only son Matthew as a result of our religious beliefs regarding medical care. It's hard for most people to understand this. It's hard for many to grasp how parents could watch a beloved child suffer, yet not call a doctor.Now, faith-healing is clearly a belief which endangers a child (or adult, for that matter) when it comes to preventing and treating disease, and parents are thus rightly prosecuted for the deaths of their children (though, in many states, they cannot be prosecuted for neglect causing serious injury - there is a faith-based get-out clause due to successful lobbying by the Christian Science church).
Attempting to put aside the moral outrage engendered by parents letting their child's eye tumour become as large as his head, so that he could only get around by supporting his head on the walls (leaving bloody stains from tumour haemorrhage), let us consider a further matter: if people are culpable for injurious effects of their beliefs, then should they be held culpable for death or injury due to other, non-faith-based, beliefs?
The most interesting of these would be anti-vaccination beliefs (particularly anti-MMR, as espoused, for example, by the actor Jim Carrey) leading to measles outbreaks and child deaths. It is difficult to see how rejection of child vaccination differs from faith-healing in terms of parental culpability for injury or death of a child. A parent has a legal responsibility to look after their child's welfare. If they fail to do so, and a child dies or is injured because of it, it matters not whether the neglect resulted from beliefs that are based on 'religous faith'. Should similarly preposterous beliefs rejecting all available evidence for vaccine safety should also qualify?