Christian Science & children
Mark R Woodall
mwoodall at OSF1.GMU.EDU
Tue Feb 4 11:02:06 PST 1997
On Tue, 4 Feb 1997, Andrew Morriss wrote:
> Fred Gedicks wrote:
> >To save a believing Christian Scientist child by medical intervention could
> >be a fate worse than death.
My response to Fred's comment is similar to my response to his comment
about the insensitive offensive nature of the statement that CS
systematically kills children. What is more important to us, not being
responsible for causing somebody to feel bad, or advocating/doing what is
right? Perhaps Branch Davidians would have felt that it would have been a
fate worse than death to prevent their second Christ, David Koresh, from
procreating, that is, committing statutory rape, with all of the 14-year
old girls in his cult. In such a scenario would Fred disapprove of
enforcing rape laws because it would make Branch Davidian's "suffer a
fate worse than death"?
> My understanding of Christian Science (as a non-believer) is that the
> motivation for using Christian Science treatment rather than conventional
> (or allopathic) medical care is that CSers do not believe that allopathic
> medicine is effective and that CS treatment is. Allopathic medicine treats
> the symptoms, not the underlying "cause" of the belief that disease exists
> -- separation from God.
As a former adherent, I can say that Andrew's understanding is as close as
any other "non-believer" that I've ever heard try to represent CS beliefs.
I would clarify as follows: Christian Scientists consider the words of
Mary Baker Eddy, particularly her words in "Science and Health with Key to
the Scriptures" as wholly divine and inspired by God. On page 401 of S&H
MBE writes, "[I]t is better for Christian Scientists to leave surgery and
the adjusment of broken bones and dislocations to the fingers of a
surgeon. . . ." Advanced disease and surgery go hand in hand, so it
should be considered either hypocritical or incorrect to understand that
Christian Scientists do not believe allopathic medicine is effective.
They believe that all of the material universe as we observe it is in fact
an illusion. Thus, they believe that allopathic medicine works as
far as our material senses can observe. But they would continue to
clarify that nothing our material senses observe is real. During every CS
service an affirmation called "The Scientific Statement of Being" is
recited. TSSB affirms, "[t]here is no life, truth, intelligence or
substance in matter." Thus, Christian Scientists only believe that
allopathic medicine doesn't work to the extent that nothing material is
> It seems to me that this offers a _stronger_ case for non-intervention than
> the example of an individual who believes that allopathic medicine works,
> but simply chooses not to use it on his or her child as a test of faith.
> Further, if you take away spiritual healing from CS, there won't be a
> Christian Science church after a generation or two. It is difficult to
> imagine a religion more centered on spiritual healing; denying parents the
> ability to transmit their faith to their children would be intrusive indeed.
Agreed, with the caveat again that I have trouble with the conclusion that
Christian Scientists do not believe that allopathic medicine works.
Christian Scientists also believe that if you murder somebody, then the
victim's body didn't really die, because that was all an illusion. I hope
that Andrew would not approve of a law that exempts Christian Scientists
from murder statutes on the ground that they don't believe the victim's
body really died. If not, then it would be hypocrically inconsistent to
reason based on the position that Christian Scientists don't believe
allopathic medicine works.
> As a non-specialist in First Amendment law and a mere lurker on this list
> (precisely for discussions of this sort of case), I would offer the
> following query to those who support intervention in the Christian Science
> case -- if the question of what treatment a sick child ought to receive
> depends on justifying the treatment against socially determined norms of
> what constitutes effective treatment (currently studies based on the
> scientific method), what happens if Christian Scientists become a majority
> in the country and the norm shifts to the type of analysis they do (case
> histories)? (Mark Twain, who was very hostile to CS doctrine and Mrs. Eddy
> in particular, predicted semi-seriously that the US would become a Christian
> Science theocracy by 1940.) Could the state tell parents "You are free to
> see the quack doctors for yourselves, but for your children you must seek
> effective treatment through a CS practicioner." (I recognize the obvious
> problems with respect to Christian Science doctrine, in which the willing
> participation of the family would be crucial, but it's just a hypo...) Don't
> we need a neutral principle to decide what parents' responsibilities are,
> one which is not dependent on the belief system of the majority at any point
> in time? If so, how can we ask that CS parents do more than behave in good
> faith toward their children, which would require them to seek CS treatment
> for any illnesses their children might experience?
I would openly welcome a study that tests the effectiveness of CS
treatment. Then we would all have documentary evidence that would
satisfy a court of facts that I know to be true. But you will never get
them to agree to it (unless they get to administer the test themselves and
in their own way).
Unless you see absolutely no value in studies that seek to quantify
factual truths, then you must recognize this as a benficial means by which
to reach the "social norms" to which you refer.
I would like to reemphasize another of my points in response to Andrew's
discussion of children. With great frequency adult adherents of CS seek
medical treatment before they die. The human body that they believe is a
false illusion presents an incredibly realistic illusion of a will to
survive. I'm not advocating a double standard. I only ask that the
children of such adults have the opportunity to receive medical treatment
in situations where the adult would also seek medical treatment. Children
are denied such treatment, and thus systematically die under CS care,
merely because they lack the personal autonomy and self-determinaion of
the adults that care for them. In a sense, the adults' denial that the
death of their child is real is no different than the denial that the
death of a murder victim is real. From a legal standpoint, the conclusion
might be consistent. That is probably why the denial of healthcare to
children has given rise to manslaughter charges on occasion.
I realize that my words are filtered as those of the disaffected former
adherent with an axe to grind to whom Rodney Smith refers. But let's
commission the studies. Let's get going with neutral third party
observers who's conclusions we would find reliable. I promise you that
they would measure exactly what I claim to be true.
> Andrew Morriss
> Associate Professor of Law &
> Associate Professor of Economics
> Case Western Reserve University School of Law
> 11075 East Blvd.
> Cleveland, OH 44106
> (216) 368-3302
> apm5 at po.cwru.edu
More information about the Religionlaw