Are Christian Scientists free to choose medical care or not?

By Bruce, an Ex-Christian Scientist group writer.

A number of child death cases in the 1980s and 90s involving Christian Scientists, exposed The Mother Church, Christian Science practitioners, and Christian Science nurses to the potential of criminal and/or civil liability for the deaths of children under their care and/or treatment. The Church subsequently published a policy to make it clear that it is an individual member’s decision whether to use medical treatment:

It’s up to each person who practices Christian Science to choose the form of health care he or she wants.1

This policy is frequently repeated by the Church’s Committees on Publication (media relations contacts) in columns, blogs, and editorials. Indeed, The New York Times reported in 2010 that, “Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.”2

Free to choose, or forced to ‘radically rely’?

This represents a dramatic change from the ‘radical-reliance’* culture I and many others were raised in–a culture that strongly discouraged any mixing of medicine with Christian Science. But unfortunately, this new policy is not always honored in practice. Most Christian Science institutions—including schools, summer camps, and nursing facilities—discourage, limit, or prohibit medical treatment.

For example, nowhere does Principia College (a school for Christian Scientists) have a policy acknowledging an individual’s right to choose the form of health care they want. In fact, Principia is explicit that:

Members of the faculty, staff, and student body will be expected to rely on Christian Science for healing” (Policy 4).3

However, they make a ‘compassionate’ exception for short-term use of medicine:

In certain circumstances, temporary use of doctor-prescribed medicine is compassionately regarded (see Science and Health, p. 444: 7-10). Under such circumstances, the college will try to find a way to help a student complete as much of the current term’s academic work as possible . . .4

Principia’s compassion has its limits, however:

Students who rely on medicine beyond one semester will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued. A withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record.5

So, Principia will show a student the door if they employ medical treatment beyond one semester. They are quick to add however, that such action is not a ‘suspension’ (i.e., not disciplinary), although it probably feels like it for the student who is forced to leave.

And how about faculty and staff? Let’s say a middle-aged professor chooses to seek medical care for a health issue they have struggled with unsuccessfully using Christian Science. If they require medication long-term, is their situation ‘compassionately regarded’? Or, will they lose their job?

Christian Science nursing facilities are even less flexible than Principia. The Commission for Accreditation of Christian Science Nursing Organizations/Facilities is adamant that medical treatment of any kind is not to be allowed:

Patients in Christian Science nursing facilities have chosen to rely on prayer for healing while receiving practical, physical care from Christian Science nurses, without the use of medicine, medical techniques, therapy, or procedures.6

Their policy requires a patient to have made the choice to rely exclusively on prayer when being admitted to a facility. But what if a patient changes her choice sometime after being admitted? Is it okay to take pain medication if pain becomes unbearable? Their answer is “no”, and consequently, many elderly Christian Scientists die in great pain in Christian Science nursing facilities—notwithstanding the fact that Mary Baker Eddy made provision for medical relief from extreme pain in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 464).

When my mother was in pain at a Christian Science nursing facility, we were put into the bizarre position of having to smuggle pills to her. Some days later, she called me in tears–imploring me to transfer her to a medical hospice. I was able to arrange the move, where she later died under compassionate palliative care.

My mother made a choice to change the form of health care she wanted. But, she was in full possession of her mental faculties. What about patients who suffer from dementia, don’t realize they can choose to leave, or are dissuaded by an assertive Christian Science practitioner; or are children and cannot choose for themselves?

In 1993, the Church severed its official ties with Christian Science nursing facilities, which are now organizationally independent, and independently accredited. Principia has also always asserted that it is ‘unaffiliated’ with The First Church of Christ, Scientist. However, there is little doubt that the Christian Science Board of Directors could ask these institutions to fully implement its policy on this issue and they would comply.

To come into compliance, Principia would need to change its policy to make it clear that a student is free to choose the form of health care they want, and if it is medical care they will be allowed to complete their studies and graduate. Christian Science nursing facilities can comply by informing incoming patients in writing of their right to choose to move to a medical facility at any time, with no questions asked and no explanation needed.

Until such changes are made at these various Christian Science-affiliated institutions, the Church cannot honestly claim that Christian Scientists are completely free to choose the form of health care they want. The cultural and peer pressure to rely only on Christian Science for health care is extremely strong. The freedom exists on paper, but not so much in practice.


Notes:

* This term arises from this statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.” (p. 167).

Footnotes:

1What is Christian Science? [Relationship with Western Medicine].” Christian Science. The Christian Science Board of Directors. n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

2 Vitello, Paul. “Christian Science Church Seeks Truce With Modern Medicine.” New York Times. 23 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

3Purpose and Policies.” The Principia. The Principia. 22 Oct. 1944 (Modified: 30 Nov. 1962, and 26 Oct. 1983). Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

4Spiritual Reliance.” Principia College (2015 – 2016 Catalog). The Principia. n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

5 Ibid.

6Christian Science Nursing is spiritually based healthcare.” The Commission. The Commission for Accreditation of Christian Science Nursing Organizations/Facilities, Inc. n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

8 Replies to “Are Christian Scientists free to choose medical care or not?”

  1. Just saw this reader comment in Carolyn Hax’s column today and cried a few tears. For those of us with relatives still in CS I personally wish for every opportunity to build bridges and help where help will be accepted. The venting, “unpacking” and self-informing some of us personally need to do is an entirely separate dialogue for me.

    Quote from the column begins below-

    “On an ailing loved one’s refusal
    to seek medical care:

    Tell them you have accepted their decision not to see a doctor and will not raise the issue again, but there are two more things you need to tell them. 1. You love them and always will, and 2. There may come a time when they will feel something and that something will concern them. They may think, “This could be something serious — maybe I should check with a doctor.” And then they may think, “No, I can’t do this, not after telling everyone I won’t see a doctor.”

    At this point, they need to know that they can call you, that you will never say, “I told you so,” that you will take them to a good, dependable doctor who will also not say, “You should have called me earlier,” that together you and they will face whatever the future holds.

    End of quote

  2. I’ve written some about this from time to time, but it’s hard to pin down. The one thing that keeps bubbling up for me though is that CS does the Cinderella step-mom thing, where it says “if,” instead of “yes.” Yes, you can go to the ball if you finish all these impossible tasks. Yes, you can seek medical care, if you’re sure you’ve already completely failed at knowing the Truth and have no desire whatsoever to get back to Divine Love.

  3. This web page captures a legal condition that is hard to describe, but it shines a spotlight into the darkness. The Christian Science membership is a self-contained environment that is emotionally and physically unhealthy for the members of that community. They are held captive, as psychological prisoners of a self-validation complex. It is a curious result of Quimby’s experimental works in the 1800’s. Of course, this kind of experimental medical observation would subsequently become the field of chiropractics. The Christian Science practice of spiritual healing, however, is now arguably an intentional infliction of torture under modern legal definitions, but this torture is not conducted by agents of the state. Their religious community might demonstrate “entwinement” with municipal functions for purposes of the torture laws under the Convention Against Torture. The Principia might be a “company town” under Marsh v. Alabama and an adherence to mental torture could be akin to Chinese brainwashing in the Korean War. Somebody needs to lay down the law of God is not theirs, and their spiritual apostasy offends the notions of “True Christians” (e.g. baptism, Lord’s Supper, etc). Their pantheism, or their “universal” presence of God, denies the very sovereign personality of God. Under the many state law exemptions, conspiracy to torture might be an extension of entanglement or entwinement, and their authoritarian practices are not exempt from inalienable protections of the individual. Torture does not require a pain threshold. The primary organizational leadership could be caught in the legal dragnet of conspiracy to torture. Such behavior is against international law now, and the Christian Science community is still living in the 1860s. They’re living on borrowed time, and the civil law tort of false imprisonment might be sufficient to also make them liable for treble punitive damages, too. The compensatory damages might be calculated in terms of mental suffering, and the intentional torts by the spiritual community leadership would be a conspiracy to inflict torture. There could be a conflict between federal criminal laws with state laws on exempting their “mental state” in criminal mindsets. Hopefully, a skilled lawyer on the Missouri bar might be able to capture the ideas in the pleadings to the court during the next measle outbreak.

  4. Thank you for these enlightened comments. My mother died in great pain, also mental anguish because she was forced to choose medical care after having wasted years and much monetary substance upon practioners care. After which she was told that if she could only have demonstrated more “gratitude” – she would have been healed. My mother weighed 60 pounds at her death and cried because not ONE practitioner would pray for her and help her because was taking medication. I called so many practitioners out of the Journel and only one would TALK with her (reluctantly) but hastened to tell me that she could not “work” or pray for my mother. There is something radically wrong with this religion, when any priest, rabbi, pastor or even kind stranger will pray for someone in such dire need. Many CS churches and reading rooms are closing and they (the CS MotherChurch) don’t get it, they think it is animal magnetism, what hogwash. Most CS practitioners and CS persons try to be so spiritual, they are no earthly good. Thank you for providing a platform for the REAl Truth about CS.

  5. The Quimby effect is called a placebo effect but this is too vague. The social effect is validation. You observe a perceived condition, and this new observation is validated by another person. This is the core around which hefty metaphysical framings are erected. The patient perceives a healing, and the practitioner is just validating it. Usually this validation cycle is a hocus pocus of spiritual affirmations within the closed loop of the religious community. The Chinese tactics of brainwashing were based on “painless” torture tactics of validation. The American prisoner would be sleep deprived and then communist interrogators would be able to obtain one small admission: communism isn’t so bad, all the people are fed. The brain prefers its consistency, and this new shift leverages the “new thought” pocesses. The prisoner may return to the cell block and negative reinforcement by fellow Americans will become antagonistic towards the reformed thoughts of the brainwashed prisoner. Now repeat. Cycling the brainwashing process of mental consistency will rearrange the worldview of the prisoner. They will return to normal, however, once the closed social environment stops reinforcing the mental shift. American POWs returned home with utterly different outlooks but their cultural reentry placed them back into the old mode of thinking. Home life did not reinforce the brainwashed anchors from Chinese prisons. The distinction for the Christian Scientists is their homelife is the spiritual prison of the homefront. They did not travel into a foreign culture. Cult deprogrammers from the evangelical ministries do not help these situations, and such quacks just add more fuels to the fires of stupidity.
    Nonetheless, the legal tort of false imprisonment has been shaped by lawsuits brought against the cults by self-appointed deprogrammers, and confinement may stretch to the mental prison created by the so-called brainwashing tactics. This cultish stuff is not helpful, but intentional infliction of the mental duress is torture by the practitioners of validation. It is helpful to bringing civil cases against the key spiritual leaders of this conspiracy to inflict torture, and the Mother Church, Nursing Homes, and The Principia are one big criminal enterprise for conspiracy to inflict torture. And creating legal firewalls between corporate personalities will just become one large criminal enterprise under RICO. The mafia were never formally incorporated but an agreement between two or more persons was a criminal enterprise (e.g. implied partnership). Here, the Quimby effect would require validation by a practitioner, nursing home administrator, or school official. The intentional validation could become conspiracy to inflict mental duress on the victim, but the mental state of the perpetrators are inferred from the physical actions (or omissions of medical care) for direct causation of the harm or death of the victim. The triers of fact would be the jury to decide if the key leaders were intentional, but if they did not follow the formulaic rantings of Christian Science, they would not be able to validate success. Your failure to validate this result is breaks the closed loop of the Quimby effect, and if perhaps you refused to so validate, you are also condemned or ostracized for nonconformity with the “norms” of Christian Science healing. That is reinforcement. This pattern of behavior is intentional infliction of mental suffering upon children in the name of God. It is a tough case to build for the average lawyer, because the metaphysical crap is so deep to wade through in the legal process. The Christian Science doctrine was the intellectual byproduct of a New Thought Movement, not the New Age Movement, and it has a very quirky metaphysical framing, too:

    “The New Thought movement stripped Christianity of such things as sin, hell, demons, and other nasty things, and replaced them with beliefs in a hodge-podge of beliefs from Eastern mysticism and Western paranormalism and spiritualism.” http://skepdic.com/newthought.html

    1. I suspect that there are many viable potential negligence cases against Prin and other CS facilities (particularly around discouraging youth from accessing medical care). I am guessing that victims either don’t want to pursue them because they either don’t know they can (or want to put the experience behind them) or that they don’t want rock the boat because of family members in the institutions who might be negatively impacted.

  6. This whole plausible deniability game that CS institutions play makes me so mad. When you are enmeshed in the CS community and network of CS institutions, it’s a joke that you are somehow equally free to choose between CS “treatment” and real medical care. There are so many coercive elements: ignorance and fear of medical options from a life of being “protected” from basic medical knowledge; social pressure from the fear and shame of being ostracized for choosing medical or being seen as spiritually inadequate; economic anxiety from the real possibility of losing a CS job, or CS educational scholarship. Add to that, that many in CS are from multi-generational CS families that are completely immersed in the CS community and have few real social ties to the outside world… that is coercion.

    In addition, most serious medical issues are the result of failure to take preventative steps –like treating high blood pressure, diabetes, screenings, etc. If you don’t take these basic preventative steps throughout your life, then by the time you are “choosing the medical rout” the person is in very serious medical situation and has already lost the option to take full advantage of the amazing benefits of medical care (though still very very worth it at any point).

    When I was a student at Prin college, I watched a house mother repeatedly harass another student who had “chosen the medical option” when he had gotten a cast on his leg for a broken bone in his foot. She would say “when are you going take that off,” and “why do you still have that on…” eventually he cut the cast off his leg himself. Who knows what the impact of taking his cast off early was. Makes me sad/angry to think about.

    I have written about this before – but while I was attending Prin college, I got some kind of eye infection thing and went to the emergency room. I was discovered by someone on the prin staff – a CS “nurse” (nurse in name only, they have no medical training). She proceeded to try to interrogate me about why I was there, and whether I had been given a prescription. I got a call from the dean of students and was questioned at length by my house mom. They didn’t care about my eye, whether it was serious or contagious. Their only concern was whether I was taking a prescription. If I was taking a prescription, I would have to move out of student housing, and perhaps leave the school – this was my final quarter of school….like weeks before I graduated. This is extremely coercive (as well as trippy and insane).

  7. I know plenty of people who were suspended from Principia the first semester they relied on medical care, even if it was very temporary, even if they were “good Christian Scientists” and even if they reported it to Principia beforehand.

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