Burying Czar's Remains
February 27, 1998
Moscow -- The Russian Orthodox Church refused Thursday to approve a government recommendation to bury the bones of Russia's last royal family this summer, saying the issue remains too controversial.
The effect of the church's decision was unclear: The church has no legal authority over the government, but it would be difficult to perform a state funeral without the sanction and participation of the church.
Controversy has surrounded the bones since they were exhumed in July 1991 from the woods outside the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow. Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, and his family were executed in the city in 1918 by a Bolshevik firing squad.
After six years of investigation and deliberation, a government commission ruled last month that the recovered remains are those of the czar, his wife, three children and four servants. The commission recommended that they be buried July 18 m the royal crypt in St. Petersburg.
Oregon Will Cover
by Steve Woodward
The state's Health Plan will give financial help to terminally ill poor Oregonians who seek a lethal prescription
February 27, 1998
By a 10-1 vote Thursday, the Oregon Health Services Commission decided to include physician-aided death on the prioritized list of health services available to Oregon's 380,000 Medicaid clients.
The vote came over the protests of groups ranging from affiliates of the Catholic Church to Oregon Right to Life to the Northwest Seasonal Workers Association.
"The voters of the state of Oregon have spoken out about their sense that this really is a health service," said commissioner Ellen Lowe, director of public policy for Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. "The most discriminatory act would be to give this choice to those of us with private insurance and not give a choice to the poor."
The question of Oregon Health Plan coverage has been unresolved since voters passed Measure 16, the Death With Dignity Act, in 1994 and reaffirmed it last year.
The complete procedure, which includes physician office visits, psychiatric and psychological assessment, and lethal prescriptions, will rank 260th of 745 services on the list. Line 260 ranks below acute and subacute ischemic heart disease and above adjustment disorders, a psychiatric condition.
Rather than being a separate line item, however, physician-assisted suicide will be lumped in with comfort care as a treatment for "terminal illness, regardless of diagnosis."
"Suicide is not comfort care," protested Dr. N. Gregory Hamilton, a Portland psychiatrist and president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, one of several opposition groups that testified at Thursday's quarterly commission meeting, at Portland State University. "Comfort care results in a comfortable patient. Assisted suicide results in a corpse."
The 11-member state commission is charged with maintaining and updating the list of health services, which is used to determine the health conditions and treatments that the $2.2 billion state-and-federal Medicaid program can afford to cover.
Because federal financing for physician-assisted suicide is prohited, the state will bear the entire cost of the service under the Oregon Health Plan. Similarly, the health plan pays for abortions entirely from state money.
The action now shifts to the Oregon Office of Medical Assistance Programs, which administers the Medicaid program. Administrator Hersh Crawford said implementation could take as long as 90 days, as the state works out wording and procedures, as well as seeking the required federal approval for revisions to the list.
The list is the centerpiece of a Medicaid demonstration project that began in 1994, with the approval of the federal government, which matches state dollars to finance the program. Rather than provide nearly unlimited services to a limited number of people, the state proposed to reverse the equation: provide limited services to a greater number of people.
Most of Thursday's public testimony centered on opposition to the proposal to add physician-assisted suicide to the priority list.
"We are opposed to Oregon funding deaths rather than life-saving services," said Alan Hakimoglu, a volunteer with Friends of Seasonal and Service Workers, a Portland-based advocacy group.
Hakimoglu and more than a dozen other advocates for low-income workers showed up for the hearing.
Several argued that allowing state financing of physician-assisted suicide would hurt the poor, who are most vulnerable to abuses of the law. For one thing, they argued, insurance companies might be tempted to encourage the poor to use physician-assisted suicide, perhaps as a cost-saving measure.
"Women, the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed, the mentally ill are the most likely to have suicidal ideation," Hamilton said. "These groups are also the most likely to be on the Oregon Health Plan."
Also, money spent on physician-assisted suicide is money that can't be spent on other medical services.
"Every (legislative) session, advocates of all kinds and shapes come to Salem to fight to get funding for health care and other services. And most often, we go away with only a portion of the services funded," said Ellie Jenny, a Salem consumer advocate. "Yet here the state is willing to pay for this life-ending procedure."
Robert Castagna, general counsel and executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, said the very fact that the commission was considering adding physician-assisted suicide to the priority list demonstrated that "the slippery slope of Measure 16 has already begun."
But Mark Gibson, Gov. John Kitzhaber's health-policy adviser, said Kitzhaber's point of view was clear. "The voters of the state of Oregon have made a decision," he said. "There is no lack of clarity about what that decision is and what they require of government agencies: It is the role of government agencies to implement the will of the voters."
Those testifying in favor included Barbara Coombs Lee, author of Measure 16 and president of Compassion in Dying of Oregon, and state Rep. George Eighmey, D-Portland.
Lee and Eighmey both argued that the mere availability of physician-aided dying would give strength and comfort to terminally ill patients, regardless of whether they actually used the procedure.
Commissioners also expressed hope that the debate about physician-assisted suicide will lead to some unintended consequences: an intense focus on end-of-life care and mental health counseling for the terminally in.
The only no vote on the commission came from Portland member Marie Deatherage, who proposed delaying the vote until the state attorney general's office had more definitive information on whether the Death With Dignity Act would comply with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.
Mitchell Street Residents
Notified Of Sex Offender
by Woody Johnson
February 27, 1998
Portland, Oregon -- Police are notifying a Southeast Portland neighborhood that a 39-year-old man convicted of a sex offense is living there.
Allen B. Thompson has been convicted of third-degree sex abuse involving a 12-year-old boy who was a member of a Boy Scout troop in which Thompson was a scoutmaster, said Lt. Cliff Madison, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman.
Thompson has served his sentence and is no longer being supervised by the Oregon Department of Corrections. He currently lives in the 5600 block of Southeast Mitchell Street.
The purpose of the notification is to reduce the chances of Thompson reoffending, Madison said. Intimidating, harassing or threatening Thompson won't be tolerated and could be a crime, he said.
Accused in Rape,
Molestation of Two Boys
by John Painter Jr.
Authorities say the incidents occurred in the home of the Rev. Robert Dwayne Bennefield, who met the boys through a congregant
February 27, 1998
Vancouver, Washington -- The pastor of Lighthouse Christian Center was arrested Thursday on accusations of rape and molestation involving two boys, ages 7 and 13.
The Rev. Robert Dwayne Bennefield, 32, was arrested without incident at midday at his church, 3402 R St.
Bennefield was was held at Clark County Jail, but posted bail and was released. He is scheduled to make his first appearance today in Clark County Superior Court.
Authorities obtained a search warrant Thursday for Bennefield's home. They were looking for computer disks, portable hard drives, computers, magazines, photos and other items that might contain child pornography, as well as evidence of any other assaults.
Authorities said incidents took place in his home. The victims spent the night on a few occasions, according to a news release from the multi-agency Child Abuse Intervention Center.
Bennefield is charged with one count of first-degree child rape and one count of second-degree child molestation.
Bob Kanekoa, director of the Child Abuse Intervention Center, said the incidents took place between Dec. 31, 1997, and Feb. 10.
A number of single mothers with small children reportedly attend the Lighthouse Christian Center in the Rosemere neighborhood.
Kanekoa said Bennefield met the boys through a woman who attends the church.
"He became acquainted with them and took them out," Kanekoa said.
"Later, he took them to his home" on Northeast 93rd Street.
County tax records show that the $154,100, four-bedroom dwelling in a neighborhood of newer, two-story homes is owned by Robert and Annette M. Bennefield.
The boys told their guardian they had been molested. The woman notified the Vancouver Police Department, which referred the matter to the Child Abuse Intervention Center.
Kanekoa said Detective Jim Eastman of the child abuse center has investigated the allegations for two weeks.
Bennefield was described as "real pleasant" by Joan Bossie, 49, who lives with her mother, Una Fox, 81, and operates a day-care from her house across the street from the church. She cares for as many as eight children ages 18 months to 6 years.
"I don't see him very often, usually on Sundays just to say hello," Bossie said. "He's been a good neighbor."
Bossie said that several single women with children attend the church and that she thinks Bennefield has served there about a year.
"I've never heard a bad word about him," Bossie said. "He's always been real nice, real friendly."
She said that she has heard no complaints regarding Bennefield and the children in her care.
No one from the church could be reached for comment Thursday.
Kanekoa asked anyone with information about the case or Bennefield to call Eastman at (360) 737-6002.
Brian Lanz of The Oregonian contributed to this
John Painter Jr. covers crime, justice and public safety in Clark County for The Oregonian.
He can be reached by phone at 896-5700; by fax at 896-5716;
or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregation Copes With
Charges Against Pastor
by Joe Fitzgibbon
The Rev. Robert Dwayne Bennefield, minister al the Lighthouse Christian Center, is accused of raping one boy and molesting another
March 2, 1998
Vancouver, Washington -- Sunday was a day of tears, hugs and prayers for members of the Lighthouse Christian Center as they tried to deal with the arrest of their pastor.
Last week, the Rev. Robert Dwayne Bennefield, 32, was charged by the Vancouver authorities with one count each of first-degree child rape and second-degree child molestation involving two boys, ages 7 and 13.
Bennefield appeared in court on Friday but entered no plea. The case was delayed until mid-March so the minister could hire an attorney.
Bennefield posted bail and returned home with his wife.
"This is a trying time for all of you," the Rev. Don Funderburg told church members. He was temporarily assigned by the Church of God to the church in the Rosemere neighborhood. "Some of you will want to run or hide, but your strength will come from pulling together."
Several members of the congregation said they were forming prayer groups. Others were making plans to contact Bennefield and his wife.
"I know they need our prayers now more than ever," one woman said as she brushed back tears.
The Lighthouse Christian Center, at 3402 R St., is under the jurisdiction of the Church of God, based in Cleveland, Tennessee.
Funderburg said that any decision affecting the pastoral future of Bennefield will be made by the state affiliate and national headquarters.
"I'm sure they know by now what the situation is," said Funderburg.
Funderburg said he was comforting the Lighthouse congregation because he had once helped another church that faced a similar problem. "I know firsthand what pain these people are going through," he said.
Funderburg declined to elaborate.
Officials with the Child Abuse Intervention Center said that the boys, who were members of the church, said they were molested in the minister's home between Dec. 31, 1997, and Feb. 10, 1998.
The two boys told their guardian, who contacted the police.
For more than two hours Sunday morning, about 22 Lighthouse church members sang hymns and comforted one another in the small sanctuary.
Several in the congregation wept and one dropped to her knees at the front of the church, while others embraced her.
"You will be healed God's love will pull you through this storm," Funderberg said as he hugged a man who seemed on the verge of collapse.
As families and couples prepared to file out into the glare of television lights, Funderberg cautioned them, "I know that many of you are angry and frustrated, but be careful what you say -- the entire neighborhood and community are listening."