Parents in Carlton, WA who police say unsuccessfully tried to faith-heal their son back to health have been charged with second-degree murder.
The charges against Gregory P. Swezey, 47, and Garnet JaLea Swezey, 45, in Okanogan County Superior Court come nearly three years after Zachery, 17, died of a burst appendix at their home on March 18, 2009.
The family belongs to the Church of the First Born, which believes in faith healing. The day before Swezey died, elders from the church came to the Swezey home, prayed for him, and anointed him with olive oil.
The boy had been sick for two-and-a-half days before he died. His father told police that they first thought he was ill from a sandwich that didn’t taste right, and later believed he had the flu.
But charging documents, filed Feb. 2, also indicate that Greg Swezey told investigators he knew 10 to 15 minutes before his son died that he was going to die. He also told detectives that he asked his son if he wanted to go to the hospital, and Zach declined.
“Family members were aware that Zach was seriously ill prior to his death,” said a report filed with charges from Okanogan County Sheriff’s detective Kreg Sloan. “Family members were also aware that Zach was going to die before his death; yet there was no effort, at any time, to obtain medical assistance,” the report stated.
But Greg Swezey also told police that they don’t force their faith on their children. “Our kids have a choice. At no time did Zachery ask to go to the doctor. In four months, he will be 18,” the report quotes Swezey as saying soon after his son’s death.
The report also said that the mortality rate for appendicitis is estimated at between 1 and 2 per 100,000 people, and that it is medically treatable.
“The (state) Court of Appeals determined, in part, that the failure to seek medical care would not be justified on religious grounds,” the report said.
Most states, including Washington, have child abuse laws that allow some religious exemptions for parents who do not seek medical treatment when their children are sick.
Washington’s law specifies that a person treated through faith healing “by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned.” Other religions are not mentioned.
Rita Swan, president of CHILD Inc., a nonprofit group formed to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, called Washington’s law “awful” and said it would not stand up if challenged because it discriminates in favor of one religion, and not others.
CHILD stands for Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty.
Swan, in Sioux City, Iowa, was aware of Swezey’s death when contacted Tuesday, and said four other children in three states other than Washington have died so far this year in what she calls faith-deaths.
“There are many small Pentecostal groups that want Jesus to be their doctor, and that consider illness a tempt of faith. But they just don’t have the legal muscle to do what the Christian Scientists do,” she said, explaining why Washington’s law protects only one religion.
Her Web site includes a list of 17 churches that “have let children die since 1980 because of their religious beliefs against medical care,” and the Church of the First Born is among them.
It should be noted that Christian Science is, theologically, a cult of Christianity. Its teaching and practices are outside the boundaries of historic, Biblical Christianity.
Church of the First Born
A number of churches and more-or-less loosely-affiliated groups of churches in the USA use the name Church of The First Born. It is not immediately clear from the reports which specific church the Swezey’s are members of.
The teachings of the vast majority of these churches regarding faith healing place them outside the boundaries of the historic, Christian faith. Theologically they should be considered cults of Christianity. [See also: Abusive Churches and Spiritual Abuse]
The term ‘faith healing’ refers to healing that occurs supernaturally — as the result of prayer rather than the use of medicines or the involvement of physicians or other medical care.
But while faith healings do take place today just as they did in the early Christian church, the teachings of some churches, movements and individuals on this subject amount to spiritual abuse.
Legitimate churches and movements do not equal using drugs or receiving proper medical attention with unbelief, insufficient faith, or otherwise sinning against God.