90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Debate Over Opting Out Of Health Insurance For Religious Reasons

Here & Now recently spoke with U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois about a bill he sponsored called The Equitable Access to Care and Health Act (EACH).

The bill would allow individuals to opt out of mandatory health insurance by writing “sincerely held religious beliefs” on their tax return, along with a sworn statement explaining their objection. The Christian Science Church heavily lobbied for it.

Today, host Robin Young speaks with someone who is against the bill. Rita Swan was a Christian Scientist whose son died from spinal meningitis after 12 days of prayer treatment by a Christian Science practitioner.

Swan says her main concern about this bill is that children could be harmed if their parents are exempt from purchasing health insurance.

Young then hears from Michelle Nanouche, a Christian Science practitioner and teacher, who defends the Christian Science practice and responds to Ms. Swan’s accusations.

Guests

  • Rita Swan, former Christian Scientist and president of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), Inc.
  • Michelle Nanouche, Christian Science practitioner and teacher.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

Well, the Obama administration said today that it met its goal of seven million signups for health care after yesterday's deadline for most. Meanwhile we want to take a closer look at a bill moving through Congress that would exempt people from having to sign up based on their religious beliefs. We spoke with the bill's sponsor, Republican Congressman Aaron Schock, after the bill passed in the House.

He said groups, for instance Oregon's Followers of Christ or Christian Scientists, who don't believe in medical care on religious grounds have a constitutional right to note that on their tax returns and avoid what is essentially a tax, a mandate that they purchase insurance.

The bill is moving through the Senate, and today we want to hear from a former Christian Scientist who opposes it. Rita Swan's infant son Matthew(ph) died from spinal meningitis after 12 days of prayer treatment by a Christian Science practitioner instead of medical care. In a few minutes we will speak with a Christian Science practitioner, but first Rita Swan.

She and her husband founded CHILD, Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, after Matthew's death in 1977, and she joins us now. And Rita, you say your main concern is that if adults are exempted from insurance, it will further endanger their children?

RITA SWAN: Well definitely. There's plenty of data to show that uninsured children are at greater risk. These children will be at particular risk because their parents have these religious beliefs against medical care, and then they won't have insurance, either. According to the bill, there's a perverse disincentive because if the parent goes and gets medical care after he's claimed this religious exemption, then there's a penalty. To penalize somebody for taking their child to the doctor, it sounds quite perverse.

YOUNG: But just because somebody is forced to buy insurance doesn't mean they will get medical treatment.

SWAN: That's true. It's just something that we thought would make it more likely that the children would get medical treatment. And a pediatrician and I did the largest study of child mortality in faith healing sects, and it was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pediatrics. We studied 172 children who had died after their parents withheld medical care on religious grounds, and 28 of those children were Christian Science children.

YOUNG: Well, and let's talk a little more about your concerns here. You and your husband founded CHILD in 1983 to protect children from what you call religion-based medical neglect because in the 1970s you were both Christian Scientists, and you lost your 16-month-old, Matthew, you say after church healers convinced you not to take him to the doctor when he was seriously ill.

SWAN: Yes, there were times when we told the Christian Science spiritual healer we wanted to dismiss her and go to a doctor instead, and she did talk us out of it.

YOUNG: Well Rita, can you just stop there for a second and explain how could you listen to someone and not take him? Can you explain the pull of your faith?

SWAN: One of the most coercive features of Christian Science is that they will not give you a Christian Science treatment if you voluntarily go to a doctor. That's very frightening to somebody that has lived with that religion all their lives. Christian Science teaches that all disease is mentally caused, morally caused, and in the case of a little child, they believe that it's caused by the sins of his parents.

One of the practitioners told me I should write a letter to my father and patch up a quarrel with my father and that that would make my baby well. I know that sounds unbelievable, but...

YOUNG: Well, and you had had experience right after Matthew was born, before he got so terribly sick, you had a debilitating cyst, so debilitating that you went in and had it removed, and you were ostracized, you say, after that. So you had a sense of what would happen.

SWAN: Yes, I was stripped of church offices and church activities. Then when Matthew got sick, one of the practitioners told me that the reason he got sick was that I had gone to the doctor for this cyst problem. After he died, we were at the funeral home, and the first thing the funeral home director said to us when he found out we were Christian Scientists was oh, then you won't want a notice to come out in the newspaper. Nobody from Child Protection Services bothered us. We chose to make our son's death a public issue.

YOUNG: Oh, so sorry, but you know the argument. Congressman Aaron Schock argues that an exemption for people from the Obamacare mandate is based on clear constitutional grounds, freedom of religion, and a few years after Matthew died, you and your husband filed a wrongful death suit against the church and the healers. But it was dismissed on First Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court didn't take it up on appeal.

SWAN: Well, we were not successful, but a father in Minnesota who lost his son under Christian Science treatment was successful. He got a $14 million settlement from a jury. And I think that made the church think twice about what they were doing. They are considerably less reckless than they were in 1977. In terms of child protection, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled way back in 1945 that there is no First Amendment right to abuse or neglect a child.

YOUNG: Well, and we should mention that some states have laws that give exemptions from prosecution to parents who don't give medical care to their children based on religion, and you've had some of those laws removed.

SWAN: We've worked very hard on that. In the 1980s there were seven sets of Christian Science parents who were prosecuted for letting their children die. In Oregon, 85 children had died in one church called Followers of Christ that had religious beliefs against medical care. And it has radically changed the behavior of the Followers of Christ. They have not let a child die since September of 2009.

YOUNG: And conversely, do you think that having the exemption might send a signal to those parents?

SWAN: Yes. The Christian Science Church right now is telling its members that federal legislators are providing this exemption because they believe that Christian Science heals disease, and it's a perfectly appropriate substitute for medical care.

YOUNG: Rita Swan, you've spent decades trying to draw attention to what you think is medical malpractice in children. What is that like for you? This is your former church.

SWAN: Well, the cost has been high. The cost of losing our son is extremely high. I don't know. It's hard. You know, I'm 70 years old now, and I would do anything in my power to save another family from going through what we have gone through.

YOUNG: That's Rita Swan, founder of Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, or CHILD. Thank you.

SWAN: Thank you.

YOUNG: Bye-bye. And when we come back, a Christian Science practitioner, HERE AND NOW.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and if you've just joined us, we've been digging deeper into a story we first brought you about two weeks ago about a bill which passed in the House and is now in the Senate that would allow people who disagree with medical care on religious grounds to be exempt from the coverage mandate under Obamacare.

Now before the break we heard from Rita Swan, a former Christian Scientist who says she worries the exemption will be seen as an endorsement of rejecting medical treatment for prayer, and that will be especially harmful to children. Rita's son Matthew died in 1977 of spinal meningitis after 12 days of prayer treatment by a Christian Scientist practitioner. That shattered her beliefs, and afterwards she and her husband formed the group CHILD and fought to overturn state laws that protected parents who rejected medical treatment for children.

Rita says since then her former church has become less rigid, but she still worries children will be endangered by the new proposed law. Let's bring in a Christian Scientist practitioner. Michelle Nanouche is a teacher and healer. And Michelle, we know this will be simplistic because faith is a complicated and deep thing, and we don't normally question it. But in this case, religious groups are asking for an exemption from a law that everyone else is required to follow. So start with non-medical prayer healing. You believe it works.

MICHELLE NANOUCHE: Well, I can give you an example from my own life. I developed a painful growth in one of my breasts, and I decided to rely on God through prayer for healing of that condition.

YOUNG: But that could have been cancer. No immediate thoughts of I better go get this biopsied?

NANOUCHE: You know, I had immediate thought that I do not want to die. Within my own life, I'd been healed of walking pneumonia. I'd been healed of a broken bone. It was natural to me to go after disease with the tools that I had in my war chest to defeat it.

YOUNG: Well, but you know the criticism, that practitioners might keep someone from going to get medical help when in fact the prayer doesn't work.

NANOUCHE: Practitioners are engaged to pray. That's it. As far as individual health care decisions, those are determined by each parent, by each individual.

YOUNG: Well, let's hear from another practitioner. This is Kevin Gronke(ph). He is on the Christian Scientist Church website.

KEVIN GRONKE: Not long ago I had someone whose family asked them to go into the hospital, and they said, would I continue to pray for him? And I said yes, I would, but what I said I would do would be to pray just with a sense of love and support. And when he is ready to go off the medication, then we can resume Christian Science treatment.

YOUNG: Now Michelle that sounds like some part of the treatment is withdrawn from someone if they choose medicine.

NANOUCHE: Well, just as you wouldn't engage two different physicians, for example, when the patient is really seeking another form of care. It's not so much a withdrawal of an aspect of it, it's that the practitioner is no longer assuming the full responsibility for healing that case. That is a billable relationship.

YOUNG: Well, what would you say to someone that you were hired to be practitioner for if they decided to take medical treatment?

NANOUCHE: Well, of course I would want them to know that they're loved. This isn't such a highly unusual thing. You have Christian Scientists who rely completely on spiritual means for healing, and you have others who for a variety of reasons have medical care. You know, it can range from it being a personal decision that they've made themselves to family members who are concerned for them who, you know, are encouraging them or even requiring them to seek medical care, these dear ones that are looking for healing.

YOUNG: Would you still consider someone a Christian Scientist if they said I'm sorry, I've got to - I'm going to go to the hospital and get medicine and care?

NANOUCHE: Of course, absolutely.

YOUNG: Is it possible, though, that a Christian Scientist, that they might not go to get the care that they desperately need because they feel so compelled to do what the church is calling them to do?

NANOUCHE: Christian Scientists make their own health care decisions. I think that it's unfortunate this suggestion that the church or the practitioners take on the role of dictating the health care decisions for the members.

YOUNG: What about Rita Swan's experience? She said that she had debilitating cysts and had to have them removed. She said she was ostracized by the church. She felt shunned.

NANOUCHE: I believe that's completely possible. There may be congregations who comport themselves in a not very Christian manner. But I would say that that is outside of the standard behavior.

YOUNG: Have you ever said to someone you should go? This isn't going to work?

NANOUCHE: I was working on a child's case where the child had what was later diagnosed as an infection in his spine. He was paralyzed. Within just I would say about 24 hours of praying, there wasn't movement. He didn't seem to be getting better. And so the parents made the wise decision to take that child immediately to the doctor.

And the doctor was willing to give a little bit more space and time for the prayer, and that child actually was healed at the doctor's office. And, you know, we're seeing more and more and more of that, of people relying on spiritual means, even within the medical faculties.

YOUNG: But Michelle, you just said something quite important. You said the people you were working with made the wise decision to take their child to see a doctor because the situation seemed so serious.

NANOUCHE: Well, it was because the situation seemed serious and because their state law mandated the duty to seek medical care in serious circumstances. This was their legal and moral duty. It was regulated by state law. It's always wise to obey the law.

YOUNG: Well, and some of these laws are in place because of the work of people like Rita Swan.

NANOUCHE: In general, the teachings of Christian Science emphasize obedience to the law.

YOUNG: Well, that brings us to the law regarding insurance. Why not get insurance coverage? Congressman Levin in the debate around the new bill pointed out that Christian Scientists can find policies that will pay for spiritual treatments, people like yourself. It's funny, another listener wrote to us and said that Mary Baker Eddy, church founder herself, said in 1901 if a vaccination is compulsory, let your children be vaccinated and know that the vaccine can't hurt them.

NANOUCHE: I was vaccinated as a child. I received - because it was compulsory. I received the polio vaccination because my parents were obedient to the laws that were in place at that time.

YOUNG: Well, this listener wrote: So just find a cheap plan and know by your prayers it will not be needed. In other words, it's compulsory; it's the law.

NANOUCHE: Mm-hmm. It may be the law now, but this amendment allows the space and the recognition for accommodating religious practice. Our government has always been willing to accommodate religious practice.

YOUNG: That's Michelle Nanouche. She's a Christian Science practitioner and teacher. Thanks very much.

NANOUCHE: Thank you.

YOUNG: And we will link you to our original reporting on the proposed amendment that would exempt people from health coverage based on religious beliefs. We'll have that at hereandnow.org. And while there we'd love to hear your opinion on all of this.

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Meanwhile a couple of other stories we're following. On May 25, Ukrainians are set to vote for a new president. There are two main contenders, a pro-European oligarch and a former prime minister. But when asked about their preference, voters in the Russian-leaning east and south tend to answer none of the above.

Also as he runs for re-election, Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, has a lot going for him, including an economy that is improving. But his co-finance chair, who is a Latino businessman, recently quit, claiming the Scott campaign doesn't understand Hispanics.

And the U.S. might release notorious Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in order to keep peace talks going, but the idea is facing a backlash in the U.S. and abroad. Details on those stories coming up later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Frog

    There is a false comparison here. Even with the insurance, a Christian Science member can opt not to accept a treatment for their children they find objectionable. The Affordable Care Act does not force a particular medical care (yet!!). So the insurance is different from the care. The question is whether the person with the religious belief should be forced to pay for something they find objectionable and will not use.

    • Quimby

      And Christian Scientists have successfully lobbied many private insurers to include Christian Science Practitioners and Nurses as a covered claim.

    • Mandeh

      They are trying to prey on people’s misunderstanding on the difference between care and insurance. They are also stigmatizing anyone who is against the ACA. A story like this says: look, in the past CS has killed kids, and now they want to be exempt from ACA, therefore everyone who is against ACA wants to kill kids.

    • FNM

      I object to taxes that support education. I do not have children in school so why do I still have to pay the taxes? I have religious beliefs against war. I cannot quit paying taxes that support war. Why should religious people be exempt from this tax? No difference.

      • Shibboleth

        You are correct. Hopefully the SCOTUS will think like that in the Hobby Lobby case.

        • jonathanpulliam

          Wrong. The American people “voted with their feet” on ACA. No net increase in insured persons seen to date, because people could see this cluster-f___ coming from a mile away.

  • Lincoln

    I was born and raised as a Christian Scientist. I was never vaccinated, never saw a doctor or even took an aspirin until the age of 18. Fortunately, I survived. I never once witnessed any healing by prayer. They talk about about it, they make all sorts of ridiculous claims, but in the end they are only charlatans trying to sell a book written by a mentally disturbed woman.

  • Kathy

    Why are you giving these lunatics a platform?

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      Agree!! These people are just sick in the head (i.e. suffering from serious delusional thinking, as a result of religious indoctrination).

      • Pat from Hilltop

        Just a note my friend…
        I found Christian Science fifty years Go when my daughter was seriously ill, under a very good doctor’s care, and sinking fast. We were introduced to a Practitioner and my daughter was healed almost instantly. We raised four children and they were pictures of health while classmates suffered untold childhood diseases. Perhaps you speak without knowledge but you should find out more about a subject before striking out. CS has made my life meaningful and I don’t see myself as a delusional idiot. No one “indoctrinated” a person in Christian Science. We choose through study of Jesus teachings how to apply his example to life’s problems. My children are now in their fifties and are still using CS as a way of life. CS students are free to seek medical treatment, it is just, in my case at least, not as quick and effective as CS.

        • The_Truth_Seeker

          This all just B.S. and “luck”! You may have been lucky so far, but I am sure you and your family will be suffering from most of the same diseases as atheists do, as you get older. When it comes to serious problems I bet YOU SURE DO use conventional medical treatments and then just allow yourselves to quickly (and conveniently) forget how you really got better, using the same medicine that everyone else uses. Again, CS will not make a heart attack go away, or make cancer disappear. Tell me any CS follower that had their pancreatic cancer, or liver cancer, just go away. Maybe it helps to relieve some stress, which does have some positive health effects, but then the same can be said for meditation, or listening to music, or watching comedy shows. If CS could cure heart disease or cancer, EVERYONE would be in CS!! Isn’t that pretty obvious? It would be a no-brainer! When it comes to the serious medical stuff, I bet I would find every one of your family members at a hospital, being treated with scientifically proven medical procedures – not by CS priests. Normal people don’t play games in life and death situations – especially when it involves their kids. You have just been lucky so far, so I hope your luck continues. But, up to half of people are pretty healthy, up until old age. Has nothing to do with practicing CS, or not.

          • Shibboleth

            Truth Seeker, If you like to seek the truth, maybe do a little research on this subject. Yes, there have been abuses in the practice of Christian Science. Thus, Mrs. Swan’s example which should shake that church into reforming its practices, accountability, etc., but there are many very well documented experiences that MD’s can attest to that you haven’t read that are neither anecdotal or fanciful. Keep seeking, friend, because in the human experience there are usually two sides to every argument.

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            There are usually more than two sides to an argument, but in the end, only one usually wins out. Guess we’ll have to see where CS followers come out. But I sure hope they do go to doctors when they get really sick and don’t get better in 1-2 weeks.

          • jonathanpulliam

            You don’t give a rat’s snotball about Christian Scientists. So that makes you a liar, NOT a “truth seeker” as you purport.

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            Don’t want anyone to die if it’s preventable. How is that a lie?

          • The Truth Seeker 2.0

            Spoken like a true scientist. Where did you get your medical degree? In another post you said people who aren’t scientists have no business commenting about science. Bye, bye.

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            Get lost PHONY! People can easily see who the REAL “Truth Seeker” is (by my years of commenting).

      • The Truth Seeker 2.0

        MAKE WAY! MAKE WAY! We have an expert on Religion in our midst.

        • The_Truth_Seeker

          You are a complete and ignorant “PHONY”, that can’t even come up with their own name, or avatar!! How embarrassing is that!

    • loyal listener

      NPR wants to paint anyone who is opposed to Obamacare as an extremists. That’s why they are doing stories like this.

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      There’s a guy now trying to fake being me. Do me a favor, if you ever see comments from this clown, please respond and flag him. Thanks a lot Kathy.

      • Rachel Rohr, Here & Now

        Hi all, This is a reminder to please be civil and adhere to our community discussion rules. Many thanks, RR/Web Producer http://www.wbur.org/community/rules

        • The_Truth_Seeker

          Thanks for response. Trying to get this guy off my back. He assumed my identity earlier in the morning just to stalk me. Now he has changed it, but is still stalking me. Have taken matter to Disqus.

  • PaulC

    Rita Swan’s testimony was very powerful. Thank you for dedicating your time and energy to stop this tragedy from happening to other religious families so they don’t have to endure what you went through. Jesus calls on us to speak the truth but when we do some of the worst abuse comes from within the religious community itself. You are in my prayers.

  • loyal listener

    The main argument about religious freedom and Obamacare is relating to abortion and some types of birth control. Not about a very small minority of people who don’t believe in medical care. NPR should focus on the real issue here and not try to distract with extreme outlier cases.

  • RAOUL ORNELAS

    One could use religious dogma to get around any law. My uncle, about 17 years ago, was in a religious debate with his neighbor across the street from his home in Downey, California when he suffered a heart attack on his neighbor’s driveway. The neighbor instead of calling 911 or calling for help, began talking in some sort of prayer tongues placing his hands over my uncle body, I assume, trying resurrect my uncle from death. Outcome: It did not work. Summary: These people are nuts!

    • Anne

      If I thought that Christian Science treatment were the same as the practice of faith-healing, then I’d agree that it sounds irresponsible (from the stories we’ve heard), but I KNOW that Christian Science teaches that there is a GREAT DIFFERENCE between genuine Christian Science healing and “faith healing”. I have seen and experienced its healing effects. Unfortunately, like the medical, CS practice has its incompetent practitioners. One has to strictly follow the theology of Christian Science (Christ’s theology) in order to practice healing as Jesus did. Ms. Swan’s experience with a “CS” practitioner seems like the incorrect practice of CS. A genuine Christian Science practitioner is NEVER to give the patient human advice. I live near a Followers of Christ group in Oregon, and I am a Christian Scientist. Our approach to healing is radically different from theirs, and I don’t understand why many Christian Scientists are “okay” about being grouped with all types of so-called “faith healers” in this proposed exemption. I would also like to add that the gospel writer, Luke, was a physician who took great interest in Jesus’ healing method.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    Shows how “evil” religion can sometimes be (another example is priests abusing children). The violent, abusive and subjugating aspects of many religions (especially Islamic ones) are responsible for much of what remains wrong in society. Fortunately, as more and more people are rejecting the most dogmatic of religious teachings, things are improving. Hopefully within 50-100 years, the above nonsense and criminal negligence will cease to exit (along with the religions that promulgate these delusional and even depraved notions)

    Most religions are completely reliant on encouraging ignorance and enforcing delusional thinking (even in the face of overwhelming evidence contrary to their absurd teachings).

  • JDB

    I find it horrifying that in the 21st century we allow parents to let their children suffer and die based on purported healing from ancient myths.

    I think Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation” does an amazing job of detailing how our country capitulates to the “faithful.” In that book he references an interesting website called whywontgodhealamputees.com that helps to further debunk the myth that prayer actually heals anything.

    • jonathanpulliam

      The “myth”, loser, is that government could successfully pour piss out of a cowboy boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.

  • Laura

    Actually, I think the conversation is missing the point. This is not about whether Christian Scientists take their kids to the doctor. This is about the separation of church and state. If this law passes, it will be saying that groups of US Citizens can site religious beliefs to live under a different set of laws than other citizens (be exempted from certain laws). Would we then allow those Muslims who might want to follow Sharia law to do so? Or permit polygamy, if, based on religious beliefs, certain citizens wanted to be exempted from the laws of marriage in the US?

    • Russell

      Bravo!

    • Another Mike

      Religious-based legal systems already exist in our country. Jews are encouraged to take their disputes to the rabbinical courts, which also handle divorces. Similarly, marriages in the Catholic church are governed by canon law. Where Sharia has been incorporated into legal systems derived from England’s — as in Malaysia — it also relates primarily to marriage and family law.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    The best example we could set for Muslim countries is show that we will not allow religious doctrines and dogma to control, or endanger, the lives of its citizens.

    • jonathanpulliam

      Muslim countries are not so foolish as to look to the U.S. as exemplary providers of healthcare based on need. The U.S. exemplifies how to profit at the expense of the weak. Period.

      • The_Truth_Seeker

        There are LOTS of ways for people NOT to be “weak”. Organizing is one of them. I refuse to be weak – plain and simple!

        “Knowedge is power – knowedge can trump money”.

  • Camdu

    The comment on this program that there are policies that cover Christian Science care are false, to date, unless you are covered by a group policy. No individuals have access to insurance that fits the government mandate that also covers a Christian Science nurse or practitioner. Contrary to one commenter, I have seen and experienced consistent healing through prayer. To channel all Americans into financial support of health care they choose not to use, and is contrary to religious beliefs, is getting government into hindering the establishment of religion.

    • The_Truth_Seeker

      We have laws that protect the well being of children – these supersede (or should) all religious doctrines (unless you want to live in an Islamic country). Unfortunately, the basic problem is that religion is contrary to physical reality and people just need to come to grips with this fact. Living your life under a delusion is not healthy (this is proven by the FACT that religious people die just as often as non-religious people do and for exactly the same reasons). Many of a courageous minority of people in the past (i.e. the “blasphemous”) had to die, just to be able to question the silly precepts of the religious majority. These people were hundreds of years ahead of their time and should never be forgotten!

      • Another Mike

        Christian Science started at a time when doctors were more likely to kill you than cure you.

        • Robert Thomas

          This is a good point.

          Also, at the time of Christ, the best understanding of cosmology in the West was that the Earth was a ball at the center of the universe (educated people didn’t think the Earth was flat). Since Christianity inherited this (essentially) Aristotelian view and assigned it truth, it was willing to commit violence on people who careened into the idea of a not-Earth centric cosmology.

          So the question is, is it better to adopt a dependence on Revealed Truth or on crummy, imperfect, changeable, unsure models which are often wrong and always contingent? And should we not by now know and understand which is right? After witnessing its acceptance that the Earth isn’t the unmoving center of the physical Universe (about 1820 for the Roman Catholic Church), how can we in the West excuse a religious tradition’s denial that best understanding of the world is temporal?

        • The_Truth_Seeker

          Even if true, what has this to do with anything today? It’s the 21st century – we know a LOT more than we did hundreds of years ago – no thanks to religions! I’ll take my chances with modern medicine, any day. If you are having a heart attack, I think you too will head to the hospital, not a church!

          • The Truth Seeker 2.0

            “We” know a lot more? Where did that knowledge come from? Was it the work of other people, or you? I thought all of your thoughts and comments were original? Does “we” include all of the people you have called stupid? Who decides if they are stupid, you? Where does your wisdom come from if not from other people or God?

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            You are an ignorant PHONY, that can’t even come up with their own name, or avatar!! How embarrassing is that!

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            Get lost PHONY! People can easily see who the REAL “Truth Seeker” is!.

          • The_Truth_Seeker

            There’s a guy now trying to fake being me. Do me a favor, if you ever see comments from this clown, please respond and flag him. Thanks.

        • jonathanpulliam

          Judging from all the disclaimers in pharmaceutical ads, I’d posit that Doctors put profits ahead of empiricism every time, to this day.

    • Shibboleth

      Paying a tax does not conflict with Christian Science. Jesus paid the temple tax. The First Amendment tells government not to be in the business of either establishing religion or hindering its practice, and the ACA does neither unless you view tax-paying as a violation of a religious tenet or commandment.

      • jonathanpulliam

        ACA isn’t structured as a “tax”. It is a compelled purchase, and moreover, one whose constitutional legality only barely survived a Supreme Court test, and must inevitably be reversed as the make-up of our highest court changes, god willing.

  • Brian E

    The perpetual defense for religious involvement by religious leaders in light of documented tragic results grows tiresome: “Oh, there was some unusual exception in that case.” Assuming it is too politically sensitive to fault the victims themselves, such leaders are nearly always ready to throw one of their own under the bus in the name of “outlier” to preserve the status quo of failed traditions. At what level of contrary scientific evidence does clinging to such tradition become unethical? At what point does giving such practitioners airtime become a disservice? (I think we’ve passed it.)

    • Quimby

      The Christian Science church, and it’s founder, both have a rich history of throwing their members and practitioners under the bus if they fail to heal a public case.

  • Beta

    A point that was not made here is that government has exempted some religions already from mandated coverage or portions of coverage. They are also exempted from paying social security. Now the law reads that if you want an exemption from ACA, you will also have to forgo receiving social security. Christian Scientists as a rule have paid into SS all their lives. Should they not have a religious exemption as others do, that does not require giving up SS?

    • Quimby

      The current exemption states:
      “The individual must be a member of a religious group whose tenets and teachings establish that its members are conscientiously opposed to receiving any insurance benefits, including Social Security and Medicare benefit. The individual must waive all Social Security and Medicare benefit. The religious organization must pay for the health care and disability costs of its members.”

      Since the Christian Science Church has spent so much legal effort on getting Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements for CS Nurses (who have no medical training), and on getting private insurance coverage for Christian Science Practitioners (who are qualified to treat all diseases after a two week course where they read one chapter of a divinely revealed textbook, with no testing), Christian Science doesn’t qualify for the exemption.

    • jonathanpulliam

      Obama and his minions want a socialist command-government model which marginalizes civil and religious liberties. President Obama belongs in a federal penitentiary for his many documented violations of numerous U.S. laws, as well as his repeated, conspicuous, and willful infringement of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.

  • Another Mike

    As I understand it, Christian Scientists had hoped that they would be allowed to purchase insurance that would cover the cost of Christian Science practitioners’ treatment and nursing care. But ultimately that was not present in the ACA.

    However, while adults can make their own decisions about what faith to adopt, children are too young. You cannot impute the parents’ beliefs to their children.

    • Robert Thomas

      AM, you put this clearly. It reminds me of the way I’ve come to understand what separates how I and other progressive, communitarian people think from the way people who reject those principles think.

      I’m not immune from criticizing others and being judgmental about their choices. And while I think I’m obliged to offer others a hand (as I am able), I think people do reap what they sow.

      But the difference (and it’s a difference that doesn’t mean I always know what the right thing is to think or do) between me and those others – in the way it sometimes is right to distinguish people between membership in two tribes, with a bright line – is that I can’t accept that children should be allowed to be punished for the mistakes of their parents.

      As I say, knowing what to do in the event isn’t always clear.

  • drwacker

    My heart goes out to Ms. Swan about her loss. But what gives her the right to force her beliefs on anyone else? If she feels she made a mistake listening to the CS practitioner, so be it. It doesn’t give her the right to force any other believers to do things her way. The “believer’s” beliefs are just as important as hers.

    • JDB

      I am not sure that all beliefs are equally valid. Imagine that I prayed to Poseidon to heal my baby’s pneumonia and then tossed him in the tub to have Poseidon’s dominion and power cleanse him. When Poseidon chose not to heal him (i.e. he drowned) my beliefs would be considered criminal, not valid. It would be OK to criticize me for trusting my infant’s care to a god who has fallen out of favor. It would be OK to pass laws forcing me to ignore my “faith” and require me to protect my child’s health by trusting him to the care of doctors.

      Belief in Poseidon seems like a naive way to think in the 21st century. Eventually the Abrahamic religions will be seen in the same light, but unfortunately that shift will take many generations.

      • drwacker

        So, only the things that YOU believe as truth should be allowed?

        • JDB

          Yes :)

        • Robert Thomas

          Outside of a priori tautology like “the union of two things and to other things is four things”, that which I believe to be the case is contingent, not Revealed to be the Truth.

    • Quimby

      This was an argument used by the Christian Science church when they successfully lobbied for religious exemptions of child neglect and abuse laws in the 70′s and 80′s: that people with sincere religious beliefs should be free to do as they please, for themselves and their children, and they can even choose spiritual care over medical care for their child’s diabetes, HIV, pertussis, etc. without being charged with neglect and abuse.
      We do know better than them.

  • Brian Parra

    Haha, healing by faith. April Fools. Nice one.

  • Robert Thomas

    Religious belief is a result of traumatic brain injury. It is likely to result in chaotic behavior.

    Chaotic behavior is likely to be injurious. Adults who behave chaotically are likely to inure themselves and children in their custody.

    In turn, religious instruction of children is infliction of trauma; it is a variety of child abuse which repeats brain injury and results in consequent chaotic behavior in its sufferers.

  • Lisa

    Wow- I was very impressed with the courage and tenacity of Rita Swan. I can’t believe I have never heard her speak before, given all her media appearances. Judging by some of the comments here, it can’t be easy to keep swinging. Another great interview by Robin.

  • Russell

    This is ridiculous!
    What happens if you’re in a car wreck? In a skiing accident? Pass out in a public, retail space?
    Here comes an ambulance and trip to the ER with potentially-bankrupting expenses. How does prayer cover those costs?

    • Another Mike

      Christian Scientists can go to physicians to set broken bones in place.

      • Shibboleth

        Mike, There are no specific prohibitions for Christian Scientists about going to physicians other than the dogma that has cropped up in the churches. It’s not just a limited freedom to have a bone set.

    • Mandeh

      Many Christian Scientists make advance directives that
      don’t allow for heroic means in the event of an accident, so if you are
      in a really bad accident you don’t receive care, so those costs don’t
      exist. There is no reason that couldn’t be part of the opt-out process.

      Otherwise, you pay for it out of pocket, much like those of us who now have insurance plans with high deductibles. The real question is, how do we pay for the people who are using insurance benefits if people who don’t use them aren’t paying in.

  • kpallante

    They are nuts. Witholding care from an innocent infant because of your whacked out beliefs is absurd and criminal. The second nutcase interviewed claimed that she has “witnessed” sick kids healed by prayer. It is impossible to refute her falsehoods and no matter what (like the Tea baggers today) – they will believe whatever their faith tells them. Damn logic and damn facts.

    • Pat from Hilltop

      Careful. Many who have been close to losing children or adult lives using medical treatment have found healing through Christian Science. You should look for facts before calling people nut cases. I can personally attest to it, and I believe you will see the medical profession finally acknowledging that alternative healing methods are becoming much more prevalent. Those of us who have lost loved ones under medical care are not so enamored with it as infallible. I pray that you never have to find that out yourself. God bless you.

  • Mandeh

    In order for ACA to work you need people who don’t receive care to pay for those who do, therefore you can’t allow people who don’t use care or minimally use care to opt out. Demonizing a religion is just a distraction from the real issue at hand, however a great opportunity for us to do what we do best, mock the minority based on almost no understanding of their religion or point of view. As they note, there are laws in place to protect children from withheld medical care. The topic of discussion should be religious freedom when it comes to taxation and that has been settled in the past with regard to other taxes. What a failure to address the real issue.

    • Quimby

      Mandeh, there are laws in place to protect religious PARENTS from prosecution of abuse and neglect if they deny medical care to their children, as long as the neglect is based on religious reasons. These protections are still in effect for over 30 states, thanks in large part to the Christian Science church, lobbying for and writing these exemptions.

  • cj

    Three generations of children in my family were denied a maternal grandmother because my mother, her mother and her grandmother all died needlessly of ‘religion’ (ignored appendicitis, benign fibroid tumors, etc.). Christian Science not only discourages its members from pursuing medical attention (contrary to the comments during today’s program), it also causes its adherants to feel personally inadequate when they become ill. If they were devout enough, if their faith were strong enough – they are taught to believe – they would not be sick; their illness is thus their own ‘fault.’

    Christian Science not only caused my mother and my grandmother’s premature deaths, it also caused them to have intense feelings of intrinsic personal inadequacy despite their profound devotion to their faith. There’s possibly no stronger example of ‘adding insult to injury’ than the perverted beliefs of the Christian Science Church.

    Christian Science teaches that the world of ‘matter’ is an illusion. That if you believe strongly enough, that if you absolutely disbelieve the reality of the world around you, that everything will be perfect. That your thinking will make it so. Like magic for grownups.

    People should have health insurance. They should get medical attention for themselves and for their children. The government should require that children receive medical attention when they require it, even if their parents have been lead to believe that illness is just pretend.

    • Mandeh

      I am profoundly sorry for your loss. I have lost several family members prematurely to diseases that might have been treatable through modern medicine. Christian Science is not a forgiving or easy religion but the neat thing about faith is that you choose to have it. No one is locked in a compound or persecuted by the government if they choose not to practice. Obviously you were able to leave. Three of the four in my generation do not practice, but that doesn’t mean I have the right to force medical care on my cousin, nor can she withhold it from me.

      It comes down to this, people “should” do a lot of things, at what point do we step back and let them make their own decisions. If everyone jogged every day we would vastly reduce the cases of preventible diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. Does that mean we hand cuff everyone to a treadmill daily and fine them if they don’t do it? Does it suffice to force everyone to buy a gym membership or fine them if they don’t? This would ensure enough access to gyms for everyone even if the majority choose not to use them.

      In this case, children were only brought up to confuse the issue. Christian Science parents are not legally allowed to hold back treatment from their children, nothing in this exemption would change that. You might want to note that the government is allowed to hold back treatments from terminal patients who have no other viable options, because they aren’t approved yet (for example, go see Dallas Buyer’s Club) and we generally accept that as reasonable.

      • aaa

        “…but the neat thing about faith is that you choose to have it.”

        Do you really? Can you one day choose to completely, wholeheartedly believe in something, then the next day choose to believe in something else with the exact same devotion?

        • Mandeh

          Anecdotally, my brother, two cousins and myself were raised in the Christian Science church. As adults only one of us continues to follow the faith. Did the change occur in one day? No. However, it happened. Many people convert and change their beliefs over their life. The ‘interwebs’ (a quick unsubstantiated google search) claim hundreds of thousands of Americans convert to Mormonism every year. At one point there were a few hundred thousand Christian Scientists in the US, today there are approx one hundred thousand, some have inferred that this is a result of children of CSs not continuing with the faith as adults. This would conflict with the assumption that religious instruction gives you no choice as an adult. I note that there was not a scientific study cited for that claim, just a personal opinion/observation.

          I will never understand why people are so obsessed with the beliefs of others that in no way effect them. If you think they are crazy, then just don’t associate with them. I’m willing to bet that most of the people who are offended by CS not seeking medical care are the same people who are against the Catholic stance of preserving life at all costs. The key difference being that Catholics want to pass laws to control everyone where the CS want to be exempt from others’ control.

          • aaa

            I certainly won’t deny that people convert, but I just don’t see it as an entirely conscious choice. It is like choosing to like a certain food or not. I think over time, people’s minds can become more accepting of ideas and gradually change, but if it is sudden, it is quite possibly delusional, emotional, or ignorant.

            “I will never understand why people are so obsessed with the beliefs of others that in no way effect them. If you think they are crazy, then just don’t associate with them. ”

            Unfortunately, beliefs of others can have impacts even if you don’t associate with them. Fundamentalists who deny basic sciences will raise children who are ignorant of how we understand the world to really work. Those who won’t vaccinate their children put others at risk. People like those in this story are putting newborns and infants at risk.

          • Mandeh

            “People like those in this story are putting newborns and infants at risk.”

            I agree, and there is a way to address that, however that is totally unrelated to ACA which, according to the headline, was supposed to be the issue at hand. Nothing in ACA mandates care, it simply mandates a mechanism for financing it.

          • Shibboleth

            I agree, but for some reason religious folks feel that having to pay a tax, even when the law behind the tax compels no disavowal of religious beliefs, constitutes a violation of the religion.

      • Robert Thomas

        Agree with aaa. Religious belief is caused by brain injury. It’s the result of trauma, such as may occur with application of an ice pick or a severe blow to the head or to religious instruction inflicted on children or congenital defect or other organic or psychological insult.

    • Another Mike

      Growing up, we had medical insurance, and my mother saw her doctors regularly. An ailment she had was not diagnosed in time, and she died at age 42. My father’s mother saw doctors regularly from age 30 on. She passed away at age 44, the year I was born.

  • ann benson

    The Christian Science church does not in any way legislate what any member does. Who are all those people, including children, in cemeteries? Are they all Christian Scientists? I don’t think so. Doctors have countless failures. Traditional medicine is the religion of the people – and those choosing another method of care are the outcasts of society. The Christian Science method of healing is none other than following Jesus’ teachings. People are very willing to follow his words – but his works for some reason are forgotten. He healed without medicine. My family has followed CS for 5 generations. My 2 brothers and I have never been to a doctor or taken any medication for 7 decades. WeI have seen many healings. Our “faith” is not blind – but based on a science – and requires being conscientious on a daily basis. Healing is based on an understanding of God who is Love, and Life, and Mind etc. – and on man as His perfect image. We are not trying to change the body. We are seeing ourselves as spiritual – as made up of qualities from God. It’s a radically different way of viewing ourselves and the world. Why should we pay for care we never use. On the other hand, we are very willing to pay a penalty if we come to a point where we feel our understanding of CS is not adequate to meet a particular need. We are not fanatics. We are not martyrs. We are merely following a method of healing which we have seen proved over and over again. CS is radical and absolute. One has the choice to follow it or not. Why should those who don’t think as the world thinks be persecuted. We are not insisting that anyone follow this religion. Just that we be permitted to. Parents of young children who do not see a healing early on will go the medical route if that seems to be the way to go. There is absolutely no stigma in our churches for doing this.

  • Mandeh

    Not a single one of those is affected by ACA so they should be irrelevant to a discussion of whether a group can be exempt from it. If you disagree with those laws then there is a separate discussion to be had.

    The Supreme Court ruled that the ACA is essentially a tax to pay for health insurance (and theoretically care). Religious groups are asking for an exemption from the tax. In the past the Supreme Court has ruled that you can’t opt out of income tax on a religious basis, therefore the question should be if this is different, and if so, how.

    • Shibboleth

      Very well stated. The Amish and others opt out because they have not traditionally taken Social Security benefits and they self-fund their medical care. Quakers don’t get to opt out of paying taxes that go towards war. If you don’t subscribe to conventional medical care, do you have the right to not support the general pool of taxation that provides for medical care for the general population?

  • rnw

    The benefits that I and my immediate and extended family
    have received from the practice of Christian Science cannot be summarized in a
    short comment. Having served my country
    as a Navy carrier pilot during the cold war, as a citizen who gladly pays local,
    state and federal taxes, I would hope that those who do chose to self-insure
    and rely on Christian Science as their first choice for health care would have
    that freedom as well.

    The health of my children comes first. My wife, who is not a Christian Scientist,
    and I raised two boys. Our agreement was such that if Christian Science treatment and prayer did not resolve a health issue promptly, we would seek medical attention. That said, the boys each had several years of
    perfect attendance at school – no missed days due to illness.

    • Robert Thomas

      Not a single life that’s been lost by any American combatant since the end of WWII has protected the fortune, freedom or life of me or anyone I’m related to or have ever known. The existence of the armed forces HAS offered me and these others such protection but no action in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else since 1945 has resulted in a combat casualty incurred in return for such protection. That’s what I believe. Yet, I accept that I am morally obligated to pay taxes that have provided the funds required to prosecute these actions, as the people’s representatives have directed the state to do, in their decision opposed to my view, to insure them these benefits.

      It is moral for you to self insure. It is not moral to refuse to pay taxes to insure the health of the people, as their representatives have directed the state to do, in their decision, in order to provide them these other benefits.

  • Robert Thomas

    JDB, this seems a very representative and perhaps comprehensive list. Which of these allowances includes exemption from or recompense for taxes or fees incurred by those opting out, for the cost of the state’s promotion of or execution of programs providing these services to others?

  • Dr. J

    We have a chapter on Christian Science in our book (e.g., How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife. Chris Johnson and Marsha McGee, Charles Press, 3rd edition coming out soon). In brief, there is no end to the insanity of Christian Science “Practitioners” or Jehovah Witnesses devotees relying totally on prayer alone to heal their congregations. Yes, we need liberty to practice our faiths in America but to what extent when it transcends common sense or the safety of children? Several cases in point are the now outlawed in some states, Pentecostal rattle snake handlers who kill their children by allowing them to get bit in services or Christian Scientists who refuse needed blood transfusions for their children and the children die. Common sense must prevail to trump religious freedoms in such examples.

    “Christian Science” practitioners insist that modern medicine is not needed, only prayer will suffice. Unlike what Michelle wants us to believe, there is the truth. The truth is there are strong pressures to conform to prayer alone, in spite of Michelle’s spin about each devoutee being allowed to make up his or her mind or her spin that we all must follow the law of land in spite of Christian Science norms which conflict with laws. I think the reality of Christian Science followers children dying from prayers alone and parents excluding medical interventions that could have saved the children proves otherwise. Michelle conveniently left out her the powerful social norms in Christian Science which influence its faithful toward abstaining from modern medicine and these prevail because they are very strong. Tragically this impaired thinking has resulted in many innocent children dying from simply not being allowed a blood transfusion. Such deaths are due to well meaning but stupid and often arrogant parents decisions to totally discount modern medicine and to “pray for the child” to totally recover. I am all for prayer. Yes, sometimes prayer alone works but not most time when you exclude modern medicine. Christian Scientists testimonials exclude telling about the failures of their myopic approach to healthcare, only offering testimonials of how it has worked for many souls who believe. I believe but believe in BOTH prayer and medicine. I tend to believe in the Baha’i Faiths view of the harmony of science and religion. Harvard’s research on the benefits of prayer on subjects versus control groups has demonstrated it helps but without the simultaneous use of modern medicine it is usually an exercise in futility.

    Finally, in my view, its equally as stupid to discount prayer and God, while relying totally on modern medicine alone. If I had to pick, I would pick both prayer and science.

    • aaa

      “I would pick both prayer and science.”

      Oddly enough, this has the exact same effect as only science. But when you rely on only prayer, the results are as discussed above.

  • Shibboleth

    Robin Young did an excellent job moderating this problematic discussion. There were a few factual errors by the participants. Mrs. Swan said incorrectly that Christian Science tells parents that their children’s illness is caused by the parents’ sin. Ms. Nanouche said that our government has always accommodated religious practice, but since the polygamy case in the 1890′s the Supreme Court has gradually put more restrictions on what they considered to be constitutionally protected practice (as contrasted with religious belief).The Christian Scientists need to do more than seek legal exemption for their practice. They must ensure proper safeguards especially for minors that illness never is a test of faith-practice and healings should be rapid or the situation should be referred to a physician. Practitioners need to be more rigorously trained and re-accredited as physicians are in Great Britain today. The general skepticism about spiritual healing expressed on blogs like this one are not the fault of critics but primarily the result of shoddy practices, dogma gone awry, and the lack of Christian compassion and honesty among religious folks.

  • RobinMontana

    I am finding it difficult to see how the argument even exists that an individual or company can have the right to be exempt from any law based on their religious belief. In fact I find it contrary to the logic of the Constitution that religious organizations are exempt from taxation -it defies the separation of church and state which was established in order to avoid a theocratic government. Exempting religious organizations and individuals from taxes and the laws all other citizens are subjected is actually creating a theocratic state -allowing religion to follow its own set of laws sanctioned by government. Consider if a religion mandates that its followers must beat the wife to near death when she disobeys because this punishment is prescribed in the Old Testament – is this practice to be allowed as well?

    • Another Mike

      You don’t see how the separation of church and state bars the state from demanding money from the church?

      Can you imagine a separation of church and state which would allow the church to demand money from the state? Cash for new pews, help pay the pastor’s salary?

      No, the famed “iron wall” of separation blocks both sides.

      • aaa

        “…a separation of church and state which would allow the church to demand money from the state?”

        Or a program that allows churches to acquire state funds in order to teach creationism in their classrooms? Oh wait, that already happens.

        • Another Mike

          If you see a hole drilled in the iron wall, you have my blessing to weld it shut.

          • aaa

            wish I could

  • jonathanpulliam

    Where is the constitutional justification for allowing the government to interpose itself between an individual citizen and his or her preferred medicine provider or physician? The whole question falls OUTSIDE government purview. There is no compelling public interest to force a consensus on patient care where there is no such agreement in the broader society. Some prefer homeopathy, acupuncture, and where does the U.S. constitution explicitly permit that those persons be denied their medicine of choice? It is preposterous and indefensible that we should even be having this conversation in 2014. Follow the money and the PAC contributions, through your “quid pro quo”, and you’ll see why our politicians have elected to forego scrupulous adherence to constitutional governance, as there’s just too much money-for-influence lucre at stake…

    • Shibboleth

      The government is not doing what you say it is. They are creating an insurance pool from the mandated “tax” to provide insurance for as many as possible, but they in no way are forcing anyone to not to go to their “preferred medicine provider” of choice.

      • jonathanpulliam

        Sorry, dumb-dumb, but the mandate component of ACA proves you wrong.

  • The_Truth_Seeker

    There’s a guy now trying to fake being me. Do me a favor, if you ever see comments from this clown (after mine), please respond and flag him. Thanks.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

July 28 5 Comments

Rob Reiner Reflects On Making Movies From ‘And So It Goes’ To ‘Princess Bride’

The actor and director has been making people laugh for decades.

July 28 4 Comments

New HBO Documentary ‘Love Child’ Looks At Gaming Addiction

"Love Child" tells the story of a South Korean couple whose baby starved to death while they cared for a virtual child.

July 25 Comment

Ebola Epidemic Strikes Top Health Worker

NPR's Jason Beaubien just returned from Sierra Leone, which along with Guinea and Liberia is suffering from the worst ever Ebola outbreak.

July 25 Comment

ER Physician Documents ‘Lost Underground’ Of WWI

Soldiers carved artwork into the walls of vast quarry systems beneath the trenches that defined the war.