Adventist sect parents jailed for manslaughter

Two Seventh-Day Adventists whose six-month-old son died after they refused him medical treatment were both given five-year jail sentences for manslaughter by a court in New Zealand yesterday.

Roby Jan Moorhead, 45, and his wife Deborah Anne Moorhead, 34, remained impassive as Judge Rhys Harrison read out the sentence. He said their refusal to allow medical treatment of the boy, Caleb, "defies rational belief."

Caleb died on March 29 last year from bronchopneumonia associated with anaemia and brain damage caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12.

Doctors told the couple several times that their child's health was deteriorating but medical treatment was denied, the judge said. The Moorheads believed that their son could be treated with prayer, herbs and vegetables.

The prosecution said Mrs Moorhead told the police that conventional medicine was "Satan's way".

The couple did not eat meat, fish or dairy products, which contain vitamin B12.

Seventh-Day Adventists accept the Bible as the written word of God and their only creed.

"The Moorheads' attitudes to modern medicine are not the teachings of the corporate Seventh-Day Adventist Church, rather they were the unfortunate personal choices of the couple," a church spokeswoman, Bronwyn Mison, said.

She said the church was deeply saddened by the baby's death.

The Moorheads, who fled from the hospital with their sick son early last year, were found guilty of manslaughter last week.

The court was told that Mrs Moorhead was six months pregnant. Judge Harrison said the prison authorities would be told of her uncompromising attitude to Caleb's treatment to ensure that her new baby does not suffer a similar fate.

The police are to recommend that she is not allowed to keep the new child.