The background that follows was provided by the Christian Science Committee on Publication for the state of Washington to a reporter from the KOMO Seattle website in response to her questions related to legislation being considered in Washington. The questions were the reporter’s, the responses reflect both the love that Christian Scientists strive for in family life and the spirit in which they seek to approach their responsibilities to the wider society.
1. What are your thoughts about the current bill that exempts Christian Scientists from providing medical care to children?
Actually, the proposed law is about the duty to provide care, not its avoidance. It doesn’t exempt parents of any faith from the duty to provide medical care for a child when wisdom and prudence require it. The bill makes room for parents to use their best judgment in decisions on their children’s care. It allows for the responsible practice of religious healing, for which I’m grateful, but it doesn’t give parents, whether for religious reasons or otherwise, license to act irresponsibly or dogmatically.
2. Do you think it’s justified if parents just provide faith-based healing without any medical care if the child is suffering from a treatable disease or just any illness, say for example chicken pox, where with medication the pain can be relieved?
You raise an important question. Caring parents, including Christian Scientists, feel it deeply when a child is suffering. We’re no different from others who love their children and want more than anything to see them happy and thriving. Really, that’s why parents need to be involved in the decisions in these situations – because they are, or at least should be, the ones who care the most and know their children best. Our church doesn’t dictate to members in these matters. Often one’s response to rely on Christian Science is guided by prior experience. Many of us have had experiences over the years involving the healing of pain. There have been many healings of children of chicken pox and other conditions where the symptoms and the pain haven’t run the medically predicted course, and the children have been healed and free sooner than normally expected. Some of us have also had experiences where painful conditions considered medically “treatable” haven’t been helped by medical care. These situations aren’t always clear in real life, but in regard to the proposed provision in the law, it certainly isn’t intended to enable or justify ignoring a child’s condition or needs.
3. Do you know how many Christian Science followers there are in Washington state and how many accredited Christian Science practitioners there are?
The church’s bylaws don’t permit us to report the number of members. We’ve never been a large church, but to give you some sense of size, there currently are 38 Christian Science congregations in the state, and 36 Christian Science practitioners here—individuals serving full-time in the denomination’s ministry of healing. It’s an individual ministry of prayer, and practitioners aren’t the heads of congregations, nor do they lead or preach to congregations the way ministers in others churches ordinarily do.
4. “Under this chapter, health care decisions made in reliance on faith-based practices do not in and of themselves constitute negligent treatment or maltreatment unless any such decision poses a clear and present danger to the health, welfare, or safety of the child.” What does “poses a clear and present danger” mean — danger in the fact that if a child doesn’t get treated it results in death or danger in that the child may suffer from an illness, but won’t die, so providing medication isn't necessary in a Christian Scientist’s eyes, although with medication significant pain would be relieved? What sort of danger does a child have to endure for it to be considered neglect based on the wording in this bill?
The “clear and present danger” wording reflects the wording used in other existing provisions of the state’s child protection law. I can’t speak for the legislators or other organizations involved in drafting the bill—most notably, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, The Children’s Advocacy Centers of Washington, and CHILD, Inc.—but the proposed new language is referencing faith based healing practices in a manner that is consistent with the current standard defining the parental duty of care. Obviously, parents have to make their own decisions in any given situation. The law is there to hold parents accountable. If a parent’s reliance on any faith-based practice isn’t meeting the need and is presenting a danger to the child’s health, welfare or safety, then the law is clear that a parent has a duty to seek medical help. I would hope that for most parents, regardless of faith background, the question isn’t about the technical “legal standard” of what constitutes neglect, but of what’s best for the child—not “how much suffering is allowed” under the law, but using our best judgment to understand and respond to what our children most need.
5. What is your current role and tell me a little about your background.
In my church role, I represent Christian Science in the state in government and other public matters. My official title is Christian Science Committee on Publication for Washington. Basically, I serve as a resource and try to answer questions such as yours as thoughtfully and accurately as I can. If it would be helpful to you, I’d be glad to provide further background on Christian Scientists’ healing practice. We can’t pretend to be perfect, and certainly have plenty to learn, but there’s far more to it than the usual “faith healing” stereotypes convey.
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