According to the seminal text of Christian Science's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, all people should be able to be their "own physician, and Truth will be the universal panacea."
From Eddy's perspective, the ability of prayer to effect a cure for virtually any human medical problem was directly related to its origins in the sufferer's mind rather than the physical body. According to May, "In some cases, Eddy suggested that people may need help in bringing their minds into alignment with 'Mind.' Such assistance, in the form of reliance on certain others, was meant only to help the individual to help him- or herself."
Christian Scientists have experienced failure to heal their children time and again over the years since the religion's founding a century ago, and a number of criminal charges have been brought against Christian Science parents who relied strictly on Eddy's guidance concerning faith healing. As a result, it would appear that even the most pious members of the Christian Science religion should recognize the limitations of faith healing when it comes to certain medical conditions for which allopathic treatments are readily available, but despite criminal convictions and countless deaths of children, the practice of faith healing remains firmly in place within the religion. Some scriptural guidance concerning these issues can be gleaned from Titus 3:10 -- 11 which states, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."
Notwithstanding these warnings to the contrary, the Old Testament does contain some on-point guidance concerning the effectiveness of prayer in facilitating healing and why it should be used. For example, James 14 asks, "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." The effectiveness of prayer in promoting a cure for sickness and for the forgiveness of sins is made clear by James 15-16 which state, "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." For those who believe in these passages today, faith healing would appear to represent the best and only acceptable approach to curing the sick. When these religious practices are applied to children, though, who are unable to make a decision for themselves concerning what type of medical intervention is required, the situation becomes more complicated and legalistic in nature and these issues are discussed further below.
Chapter 3: When Faith Healing Fails God's Children
This chapter integrates these various insights in order to answer the guiding dissertation question. In a free society, adults should be free to pursue any healthcare regimen they believe will provide them with some benefit for their medical condition; however, even in the most permissive and open society, young children do not have the right or capacity to make such informed judgments concerning what healthcare approach may be best suited for their individual needs. It is reasonable to suggest that given the opportunity, many of the young people who have died as a result of their Christian Scientist parents' strict observance of faith healing practices to the total exclusion of mainstream medical interventions would have elected to receive such treatments but they were never provided this opportunity.
Indeed, the strict reliance of Christian Scientists parents on faith healing practices for their children directly contradicts the statement by Dr. J. Buroughs Stokes, Christian Science Commission on Publication who emphasized in a statement before Congress that, "Christian Science relies wholly on spiritual means for healing, as did Christ Jesus.... It respects the right of each individual to choose that mode of health care which seems to him most efficacious and most nearly in accord with God's will."
Clearly, Christian Science does not "respect the right of each individual" if that individual has not yet reached his or her majority and children of Christian Science parents are not consulted concerning their preference for healthcare alternatives, but are rather subjected to strict faith healing practices that involve senior members of the religion coming together to pray over an afflicted child. Most reasonable people would agree that such practices when combined with known efficacious allopathic interventions would be a highly desirable approach. Studies have shown time and again that prayer can facilitate healing among adults.
According to Trier and Shupe, researchers have "reviewed several clinical studies of prayer and healing in hospitals and found prayer associated with improvement in patients' overall conditions. They also researched the importance of religious faith and prayer for the mental and physical health of the elderly and discovered it to be significant."
These studies, though, also emphasized that intercessory prayer was used in conjunction with, rather than to the exclusion of, mainstream healthcare interventions and that the subjects involved were already inpatients in mainstream hospitals at the time of the research.
Chapter 4: Drawing the Line, Faith Healing or Murder
Finally, this chapter considers some of the implications of "Faith Healing" in the name of Jesus in modern mainstream churches and the Christian Science religion today and the obligation of believers and the world to act according to the Will of God. Today, the world is wracked by violence and mayhem from religious fundamentalists of every ilk who believe they know the Mind of God and how it applies to their everyday lives. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were prosecuted by 15 such religious fanatics, but this level of fanaticism is not restricted to Islam by any measure. Indeed, the continuing existing of the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation in the United States is proof positive that fringe elements in American society will continue to embrace scriptures out of context to support their own warped views of what it means to be a "good Christian" in ways that defy explanation by those who do not subscribe to such fanatical views.
Notwithstanding the violence that is associated with such fringe elements to the contrary, though, even these fringe elements could be tolerated in a free society because, after all, the Bill of Rights does not stop at the church house door nor does it only apply to people with whom one agrees. In a free society, adults must be allowed to pursue their own course of action as they see fit when it comes to what healthcare alternatives are best suited for their individual needs. Nevertheless, a line must be drawn somewhere in order to protect the young and innocent from religious beliefs that might be harmful to them and this is certainly the case with Christian Scientists and their faith-healing practices. In this regard, May emphasizes that, "The mainstream position in medicine and law is that even in a pluralistic society a line needs to be drawn at the point where respecting a religious minority culture clearly jeopardizes the well-being of children" (emphasis added).
It is clear that Christian Science represents a threat to well-being and safety of the children who parents rely strictly on faith healing to the exclusion of allopathic interventions with known efficacy, and when these interventions are denied children, the act is tantamount to murder. The courts have tended to agree with this position as well and increasingly, the practice of faith healing for children has been related to criminal charges for the adults involved. Perhaps a more enlightened interpretation of the guidance handed down by Mary Baker Eddy would allow for the integration of faith-healing practices with mainstream medical care in ways that have been proven to be effective; however, unless and until this revision of Eddy's guidance is incorporated into the Christian Science dogma, young children will likely continue to be denied access to the healthcare interventions that might save their lives.
The time has come and gone for steps to be taken to stop this practice by Christian Scientists as it applies to young children who do not have the faculties or ability to make such a life-threatening decision on their own, but the practice continues unabated across the country anyway. How many more young children are going to have to die before lawmakers wake up and recognize that Christian Science's approach to healthcare may be acceptable for consenting adults who believe in their church's teaching but are completely inappropriate and outrageous when it is applied to minors? It is impossible to survey those young people who have died as a result of these practices, of course, but it would seem that many of them would want to have been afforded the chance to live their lives out and would have sought…