Faith Healing: Religious Freedom vs. Child Protection

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We have written a lot about people who reject science-based medicine and turn to complementary/alternative medicine (CAM), but what about people who reject the very idea of medical treatment?

Faith healing is widely practiced by Christian Scientists, Pentecostalists, the Church of the First Born, the Followers of Christ, and myriad smaller sects. Many of these believers reject all medical treatment in favor of prayer, anointing with oils, and sometimes exorcisms. Some even deny the reality of illness. When they reject medical treatment for their children, they may be guilty of negligence and homicide. Until recently, religious shield laws have protected them from prosecution; but the laws are changing, as are public attitudes. Freedom of religion has come into conflict with the duty of society to protect children. The right to believe does not extend to the right to endanger the lives of children. A new book by Cameron Stauth, In the Name of God: The True Story of the Fight to Save Children from Faith-Healing Homicide, provides the chilling details of the struggle. He is a master storyteller; the book grabs the reader’s attention like a fictional thriller and is hard to put down. He is sympathetic to both the perpetrators and the prosecutors of religion-motivated child abuse, and he makes their personalities and their struggles come alive.

Rita Swan: From Christian Scientist to Crusader

Rita and Doug Swan were Christian Scientists who firmly believed that disease was an illusion, and that “the most dangerous thing they could do was to show lack of faith in God by relying on medical treatment.” (One wonders just how strong their belief was, since when an ovarian cyst caused intractable pain, Rita had surgery to remove it.) When their baby Matthew developed a fever, they paid a Christian Science practitioner to come to their home and pray over him. She told them fever was just fear; and indeed, Matthew recovered.

Written By: Harriet Hall
continue to source article at sciencebasedmedicine.org

28 COMMENTS

  1. Read the book and was stunned at the deep pit of evil that religion is.When one can allow children (and adults) to suffer terribly and die because one doesn’t want to be seen as not having enough faith ( filthy word) then something is horribly wrong.

    I’m glad that these Followers are now being scrutinized and that action is taken against them

    • In reply to Harriet Hall:

      Some even deny the reality of illness. When they reject medical treatment for their children, they may be guilty of negligence and homicide.

      Unless they have enough money to throw at the situation, Like John Travolta and his wife.

      • Thanks,will get the book.In reply to #12 by Agrajag:

        In reply to #1 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

        Read the book and was stunned at the deep pit of evil that religion is…

        Another good book about a particular religious tradition (I call it a “cult”) is God’s Perfect Child- living and dying in the christian science church, another well-written acc…

  2. Very distressing article. In Utah, “Parents Rights Advocates” are a permanent fixture of the far right which dominates politics here. And we are not immune from this problem as a result. Kudos to Rita Swan and her crusade to save children from what I have to describe as religious abuse.

  3. Would we allow these folk to set up a shop where you could bring your child to be healed? Not bloody likely.

    They should have to show what they are doing is effective. If not, they are behaving identically to parents who deny their children medical care out of spite. Their kids should be confiscated for treatment, then the parents charged for the inconvenience.

    They have a right to deny themselves medical care, but not kids.

  4. Can someone explain to me how you can be a christian scientist and yet reject modern medicine? Why is that religious people feel like their right to be dumb trumps someone else’s right to live.

      • In reply to #10 by bluebird:
        >

        …how you can be a christian scientist and yet reject modern medicine?

        There is a huge difference between a christian scientist (a scientist who self-identifies as a “christian”) and a “christian scientist” (a follower of Mary Baker Eddy), who is no kind of scientist. Of course, there are probably scientists who self-identify as “christian scientists” in the M.B. Eddy tradition… the human mind’s ability to delude itself is almost unlimited.

        Steve

          • In reply to #14 by bluebird:

            In reply to #11 by Agrajag:

            There is a huge difference…

            Francis Collins vs MBE.

            Exactly

          • In reply to #14 by bluebird:

            Francis Collins vs MBE.

            Francis Collins was a geneticist who is the current head of National Institute of Health in the USA.

            He writes books claiming science and religion are compatible. I don’t know if he goes as far a biblical inerrantism or creationism.

            I suspect he an opportunist who saw his bread would best be buttered politically by posing as an ardent Christian. Nobody could be that well educated in science and hold those views honestly.

          • In reply to #17 by Roedy:

            I don’t know if he goes as far as biblical inerrantism or creationism.

            I do not know either, where he places on the “50 shades of” scale.

            I suspect he is an opportunist

            Here again, knoweth I not – would guess no, partly due to his milquetoast looks and demeanor.

            Found a blog from patheos that sheds a bit of light. Frozen waterfalls…

          • Francis Collins is a brilliant man and he is also a devout Christian.I think he is a good person who looked at a frozen waterfall and unfortunately,conflated a magnificent tableau with god’s presence.I know many people like that myself.Intelligent, wonderful folk, who are blinded by religion.

            Another thing about Collins, when Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer,he went out of his way to help. In reply to #17 by Roedy:

            In reply to #14 by bluebird:

            Francis Collins vs MBE.

            Francis Collins was a geneticist who is the current head of National Institute of Health in the USA.

            He writes books claiming science and religion are compatible. I don’t know if he goes as far a biblical inerrantism or creationism.

            I suspect…

  5. It’s appalling that parental withholding of medical treatment from suffering children is even a matter of debate.

    I’m not convinced that the intent of the First Amendment was its convenient and selective use when parents are clearly not basing their decision on informed consent at the expense of any/or all of their child’s rights (ie life, dignity and protection). Where’s all the pro-lifers’ rabid indignation through all this?

    • In reply to #13 by Stuart Coyle:

      Am I correct in understanding that certain states of the US allow homicide based on religious conviction?

      Well, manslaughter, technically speaking. But otherwise, yes. Just look up Jerry Coyne’s blog, which is where I originally obtained this source. He documents several inane laws and cases from, surprisingly enough, almost all the states of the US. It’s a prime example of why religious freedom should be restricted to words and harmless hobbies only.

    • In reply to #13 by Stuart Coyle:

      Am I correct in understanding that certain states of the US allow homicide based on religious conviction?

      It appears to be that way. Religious conviction seems to have more respect than the lives of those that it destroys. Truly an awful sickness.

  6. The core of the issue is the status of children. Are they chattels or are they citizens temporarily under the care of a pair of adults?

    In the USA children go without medical care all the time for financial reasons. However, in Canada and similar countries, withholding effective medical care is intent to kill. It is attempted murder.

    The motive for murder is irrelevant. If you think God told you to, like Abraham, that does not get you off the hook.

    On what grounds can these religious nuts abuse their kids? I don’t see one.

  7. Freedom of Religion means you are allowed to believe whatever ridiculous nonsense you like entirely at your own risk. Religious Freedom does not give you the right to infringe on the real rights of others, including your children’s.

    • Well said!In reply to #23 by Peter Grant:

      Freedom of Religion means you are allowed to believe whatever ridiculous nonsense you like entirely at your own risk. Religious Freedom does not give you the right to infringe on the real rights of others, including your children’s.

      • In reply to #24 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

        Well said!

        Thank you! :D

        Perhaps if I say it often and loudly enough idiots like these will stop trying to claim special privileges based on their delusions.

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