The Washington Post - March 23, 2010
Christian Science and irresponsible parenting
By Liz Heywood | Opinion - On Faith
In his March 5 guest column [see below] for On Faith, Gary Jones calls the Secular Coalition's White House presentation on faith-based medical neglect an "unjust and unfair attempt to convert the atypical to the norm" -- because my testimony was grounded in my near-death Christian Science experience 30 years ago. It may be convenient for Jones to dismiss my experience as ancient history, but it's impossible for me to forget-especially when I put on my prosthetic leg in the morning.
Contrary to Jones' description of my case as atypical, my parents were "class-taught" church members just outside Boston. Some of my relatives worked at the church headquarters; one was a Christian Science practitioner, certified by the church to pray professionally. My childhood bone disease-diagnosed years later as osteomyelitis-may have been uncommon, but Christian Science doctrine was followed to the letter. As a result, I was bedridden for almost a year, my leg dripping pus; my deformed knee ultimately fused solid at an eighty-degree angle.
I walked with a "simian gait," as one doctor noted, on my rigid knee for thirty years until it was amputated in 2007. My orthopedic specialists said they usually saw fused limbs like mine only in elderly patients who'd had osteomyelitis before the discovery of antibiotics, or in third world countries.
Christian Science theology opposes both medical treatment and diagnosis and demands denial of symptoms. Jones claims that Christian Scientists "do not believe that suffering or death is ever God's will." Indeed, they believe suffering and death aren't real at all. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Christian Science textbook, Mary Baker Eddy defines FLESH as, "An error of physical belief; . . . an illusion; a belief that matter has sensation." Is a child's pain an illusion? Is a parent negligent when he denies the reality of his child's pain? Jones claims that Christian Science parents "will turn to other means for healing, including medical." But how much pain should a child suffer before the parents recognize that "their prayers are not availing?"
When I was a child, we prayed truly and deeply, all of my family, through every minute of my agony. Indeed, prayer was the only treatment I (and my parents) knew. Doctors were unfamiliar and we were afraid of them. The Christian Science "nurses" who helped care for me were trained by the church to wash my leg with only soap and water; nothing stronger than petroleum jelly was applied to my open sores. They also served to distance my practitioner from my physical state; he never once saw the infection that ate at my flesh. Is this the "skilled nonmedical nursing care" Jones mentions?
My practitioner became and remains a Christian Science teacher who teaches people to become Christian Science practitioners. In at least one talk, he used my case as an example of a child healed by Christian Science while successfully shielded from outside intervention. I called him four years ago to ask whether he really believed I'd been healed as a child. He said, "Well you didn't die-what would you call it?" Does this make me part of the "remarkable" record of Christian Science healing Jones refers to?
In 2003, seven-year-old Eben Tryon died of untreated diabetes in Norwood, Mass. Maybe Jones thinks that child's death is old history too. But it would be hard to argue that his parents were atypical Christian Scientists or didn't know the rules of the religion. His mother was a Christian Science "nurse" and his father was employed at church headquarters.
Does Christian Science neglect children's health? The church seeks religious exemptions from all child health laws-every preventive and diagnostic measure, the civil child abuse and neglect laws, and criminal laws requiring parents to provide medical care for sick children. In the 1990's the church got a religious defense to first-degree murder enacted in Delaware, to capital murder in Arkansas, and to homicide by abuse or neglect in Oregon. No conscientious adult-whether religious or non-theist-could call this responsible parenting.
Liz Heywood is an above-knee amputee and former member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.
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The Washington Post - March 5, 2010
Practicing spiritual care responsibly
By Gary Jones | Opinion - On Faith
In his February 28 "On Faith" blog post ("Our Secular Coalition visit to the White House") Herb Silverman says he wants "to dispel some grossly unfair but predictable media comments" and to respond to "those who continually accuse the Secular Coalition for America of hate-filled, religion bashing." He exhorts them to take the time to examine the evidence.
Silverman should heed his own words. For, as he reports, in a public policy discussion at the highest levels of the Obama administration, his Secular Coalition has aligned Christian Science with the neglect of children's health. Examine the evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Christian Science is a religion of love and goodwill toward all. "To injure no man, but to bless all mankind" is the motto of the well-respected Christian Science Monitor newspaper. Christian Scientists worldwide deeply love their children. Neglect of their children's health is abhorrent to them.
They seek to demonstrate wisdom as a result of their prayers for their children. Their church does not compel them to turn from medicine. Individual choice rules. If their prayers are not availing, they will turn to other means for healing, including medical. They do not believe that suffering or death is ever God's will.
Neither do they seek to place themselves above the law. Just like their neighbors, they want to fulfill the sacred duty of parenthood and protect their children from harm.
Congress and state legislatures have constitutional authority to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs and practices, and over the years a variety of statutory provisions have done this at the state and federal levels. Some provisions relate to the many Americans who use prayer and skilled nonmedical nursing care for their family's health. These provisions do not exempt, or immunize, parents from either parental responsibility or legal liability for the health of their children. They're not designed to give religious parents "legal loopholes." Every state in the union gives child protection authorities the right to initiate legal proceedings against parents - even in advance - to protect children from serious harm to their health. And this is as it should be.
Christian Science has a remarkable published record of healing over the past 140 years. The Secular Coalition's reliance before White House officials on a highly unfortunate case of suffering and harm to a child in a Christian Science family more than 30 years ago is an unjust and unfair attempt to convert the atypical to the norm.
Silverman concludes his article, "Of course, nothing will stop rants from those who would rather denigrate and stereotype than examine evidence." I agree.
Gary Jones is manager of the Federal Office, Christian Science Committee on Publication at The First Church of Christ, Scientist.
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