Lawmaker seeks to remove Christian Scientists’ religious exemption

When it comes to issues of child abuse or neglect, followers of Christian Science should be held to the same standards as members of other groups, says Washington state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah.

The Bellingham Herald reports that he has introduced a bill that would eliminate an exemption in Washington state law that allows Christian Scientists –but not members of other religious groups — to treat their children with prayer or faith-healing methods instead of traditional medicine.

“A child has no say in it,” Mullet told the newspaper. “If you’re ill, prayer doesn’t count as medical treatment. You can do that and medical treatment, but it has to be both.”

Mullet said his bill is mostly inspired by incidents that have taken place in Washington’s neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho.

The State of Oregon in 2011 passed a law that removed legal protection for parents who choose faith healing over medical intervention when treating their children.

It was a response to numerous preventable deaths among children of parents who belong to the Followers of Christ Church, a religious sect with extremist teachings regarding faith verses medical aid.

A lawmaker in Idaho has also drafted a bill that addresses how his state deals with the issue of faith healing when minors are involved.

Democratic Rep. John Gannon’s bill was inspired by countless preventable deaths within a splinter group of the church in Oregon.

Mullet — whose bill is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, as well as Democratic Sen. Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma — says the situation in Washington isn’t as dire as it was in Oregon during the 1990s, or as it currently is in Idaho.

“It’s kind of one of those questions where do you wait for a bad incident, or do you do something before it happens?”

Children’s Health Care Is a Legal Duty

The Bellingham Herald says

The bill also has backing from a national group known as Children’s Health Care is a Legal Duty (CHILD), which has fought to pass laws against religious-based abuse and neglect in more than a dozen states.

The group is led by Rita Swan, a former Christian Scientist who left the church after her 16-month-old son, Matthew, died from meningitis in 1977. He received faith healing, but no medical care, she said.

Swan said Washington’s law “is narrow in that it only applies to Christian Scientists, but it is certainly pretty blatant in calling prayer medical treatment.”

“I don’t see why Christian Scientists should have a right to let their kids die,” Swan said. “I don’t see why they should have a law that lets them do this, even if they don’t mean to do this.”

Christian Science

Despite its name, Christian Science is neither Christian nor scientific in nature.

Christians consider Christian Science to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity. This religious movement denies the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, and reinterprets the Bible

Christian Science’s un-biblical teachings on faith healing have resulted in many unnecessary deaths.

Oddly, Christian Science has nevertheless been able to negotiate various exemptions to health care bills.

Couple’s plea means no appeal of Christian Science faith healing ruling

A pretrial ruling upholding a Washington state law that allows faith healing for Christian Scientists but not other religions will go unchallenged now that Greg and JaLea Swezey agreed to plea deals, their lawyer says.

The Wenatchee World says

As members of the Church of the First Born, the Swezeys believe in faith healing. They were accused of failing to call a doctor while their 17-year-old son died of a ruptured appendix, and they prayed for him to get better.

Before their trial, Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp declined to dismiss their case after their attorneys argued that they were not being treated equally under the law.

State law — RCW 9A.42.005 — allows treatment by a “duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care” but does not include treatment by other church practitioners. […]

On Thursday, rather than face a retrial on manslaughter charges, JaLea Swezey pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal mistreatment on Thursday, and Greg Swezey signed papers agreeing to plead guilty to the same crime after two years, if he follows court orders and commits no felonies during that time.

Webber said by signing a plea deal, the Swezeys gave up their right to appeal the judge’s ruling. […]

A spokesperson for the Christian Science Church previously declined to define what it means to be a duly accredited practitioner.

Rita Swan, president of CHILD Inc., a national nonprofit group to that works to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, said Christian Science practitioners are not medically trained. She said while they are required to report child abuse and neglect to the state, the state Department of Social and Health Services does not include them in their list of mandated child abuse reporters.

Christian Science: Neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘Science’

Christian Science is neither ‘Christian’ nor ‘Science.’

Due to the belief that all is Spirit and matter is an illusion, Christian Science denies the reality of sickness and death. [source]

The unwillingness of many Christian Science parents to seek help from physicians for their critically ill children has led to many painful and unnecessary deaths and, increasingly, to legal actions that have become burdensome to the Church and its members.

Stephen Barrett, M.D., who runs the Quackwatch website, says

As far as I know, no systematic, medically supervised study of the outcome of Christian Science healing has ever been performed. However, a recent study suggests that devout Christian Scientists, who rarely consult doctors, pay a high price for avoiding medical care. […]

Rita and Douglas Swan, whose 16-month-old son Matthew died of meningitis under the care of two Christian Science practitioners in 1977, are not surprised by these statistics. Angered by their experience, she founded CHILD, Inc., to work for legal reforms that can protect children from inappropriate treatment by faith healers. She and a colleague collected and reviewed the cases of 172 children who died between 1975 and 1995 when parents withheld medical care because of reliance on religious rituals They concluded

• 140 of the deaths were from medical conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. These included 22 cases of pneumonia in infants under two years of age, 15 cases of meningitis, and 12 cases of insulin-dependent diabetes.
• 18 more had expected survival rates greater than 50%
• All but three of the remainder would probably have had some benefit from clinical help.

Christians consider Christian Science to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

Oddly, Christian Science has been able to negotiate various exemptions to health care bills.

Jurors have mixed reactions

The Wenatchee World also reports that jurors had mixed reactions to the plea deal.

The jurors said they voted 10-2 in favor of convicting the Swezeys of second-degree manslaughter for failing to provide medical treatment to their son, Zachery, while he was dying of a ruptured appendix three years ago. Jurors heard that the Swezeys prayed by his bedside and called for elders of their Church of the First Born, which believes in faith healing, to anoint him with olive oil, but never called a doctor or ambulance.

The three jurors contacted Thursday said they deadlocked after nine hours of deliberation when one of the jurors who was against conviction refused to continue discussing the issue. […

In the end, a plea deal in Okanogan County’s faith-healing-murder charge was one of those cases where no one got what they wanted, yet the judge declared — and lawyers agreed — that justice was served.

“Sometimes, being a responsible parent means doing things you don’t necessarily like,” Superior Court Judge Chris Culp told the Swezeys after their plea deals were signed. “The point is that there is a responsibility here, and that’s what this case is about,” he added.

The judge said given the facts of the case, Prosecutor Karl Sloan was duty-bound to charge the Swezeys.

He said he didn’t feel a jail sentence was necessary. “My only hope is that the message now is clear about our duties and responsibilities as parents — that we do whatever is necessary to take care of our children.”

Before she was sentenced, JaLea Swezey asked the judge how she was supposed to determine when to call CPS if her daughter became ill.

“Does that mean every little thing?” she asked. “If (her daughter) has a cold, or skins her knee? I just don’t want to be found I’m not doing it properly,” she said.

After Sloan explained that he didn’t want to force the Swezeys to see a doctor for every ailment, Culp advised Swezey to “err on the side of caution,” and call the agency and describe her daughter’s condition just to get it on the record. If CPS advises she should see a doctor, she should do so.

Healthcare provision seeks to embrace Christian Science prayer treatments

Christian Science Backed by some of the most powerful members of the Senate, a little-noticed provision in the healthcare overhaul bill would require insurers to consider covering Christian Science prayer treatments as medical expenses.

The measure would put Christian Science prayer treatments — which substitute for or supplement medical treatments — on the same footing as clinical medicine. While not mentioning the church by name, it would prohibit discrimination against “religious and spiritual healthcare.” [Read more...]

Christian Scientists pushing change in Wisconsin prayer law

Christian Science In an effort to separate itself from the tragic death of young Madeline Kara Neumann of Wisconsin whose parents chose to pray over her rather than seek medical help, the local Christian Science Church has been meeting with state legislators to revise a state law that currently exempts faith healing practices from prosecution for child neglect and abuse.

But one expert warned that any measure drafted by Christian Scientists would aim to protect only Christian Scientists, not children. [Read more...]

Christian Science Monitor to discontinue daily print edition

Christian Science Monitor The century-old Christian Science Monitor said Tuesday that it would discontinue its daily print edition in April and move almost exclusively to online publication, becoming the first major national newspaper to abandon a daily paper-and-ink format.

The move, which had been expected by industry professionals and the Monitor staff, will cut annual costs by millions of dollars for the money-losing newspaper, which is subsidized by the Christian Science Church. [Read more...]