Another Faith Healing Death

17-year-old Zachery Swezey died of a ruptured appendix a few months ago… his body got warmer, he began vomiting, and he suffered from severe diarrhea.

What did his parents do about all this?

During those three days, aunts, uncles and grandparents came to his bedside to pray. On March 17, his father did not call a doctor or an ambulance. Instead, he called elders from their church. They came to the house and anointed Zakk with olive oil, and prayed for him as Zakk’s family waited outside in the hall. Members of the Church of the First Born, the Swezeys believe in faith healing.

At midday on March 18, Zakk told his mother he loved her, and asked for his father to come to his bedside.

Shortly before 1 p.m, his breathing slowed. His hands got cold and turned a bluish color. With both of his parents at his bedside, Zakk Swezey died.

Parents Greg and JaLea Swezey say they offered Zakk the option of medical help in the last hours of his life, but Zakk may not have been in proper condition (or mindset) to accept that help and the parents never called on doctors. When you teach your children that medical help is unnecessary when you have faith, it’s not surprising the son would remain ignorant of what modern medicine can do and not want to call on doctors during the time he needed them the most. Not to mention he was still legally a child — it was his parents’ responsibility to get him the help he needed, and they failed.

“We don’t force our kids, our kids have a choice. At no time did Zachery ask to go to the doctor,” [Okanogan County Sheriff's investigator Josh] Brown wrote in notes from his interview with Greg Swezey. He also told investigators that his oldest son once broke his leg, and they gave him a choice of going to the doctor, but his son chose not to. Swezey put a cast on his leg, and later they saw a physical therapist who confirmed his son had broken his leg.

It will be tough to prosecute the parents. The law in Washington state, like in many states, provides exemptions to parents who kill their children because of their religious beliefs:

Most states, including Washington, have child abuse laws that allow some religious exemptions for parents who do not seek medical treatment when their children are sick.

Washington’s law specifies that a person treated through faith healing “by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned.”…

Judges must continue sending the message that religious beliefs should not trump the life and health of a child. They have to punish these parents for their neglect and ignorance.

(via Deep Thoughts)

  • http://logofveritas.blogspot.com Veritas

    I read this earlier on another site, and it just rends my heart asunder. Just…it’s so incredibly sad. And that these bastards would get off scott free. If I lived in Washington state, I’d be pushing to have this foolhardy law repealed.

  • Valdyr

    Where does one need to go to become a “duly accredited” Christian Science practitioner? And can I buy an M.D. at the same place?

  • Epistaxis

    Wow, if faith-healing every actually works, it will be a miracle.

  • Sesoron

    The good news about belief in faith healing is that evolutionary pressure should eventually eliminate it, since it is statistically harmful to survival. The bad news is that innocent kids have to die for that to work. Here’s hoping the publication of tragedies like this will wake up more parents and prevent more needless deaths.

  • Richard P

    Wow I just can’t understand it. If I thought there was any action I could take to save my son I would do it. How can people just watch there child die knowing there were options available that could be tried.
    Even more baffling is how can people not see religion as the mental sickness it is. One that it needs to be dealt with. The evidence is so evident when people do things like this. I just don’t understand how they can’t draw the line in how much stupidity they will tolerate in the name of god.

  • Tom

    The law described is clearly a violation of the establishment clause, because it names a specific religion and exempts it from the law.

    So, the question becomes, who would have standing to sue? The answer is, someone who has been convicted for killing their child through depriving them of medical care, who did not do so for reasons of religion. If the state declines to prosecute the Swezey family, the convicted person could sue and claim that they were deprived of equal treatment under the law and discriminated against on the basis of religion because the child abuse law exempts some people from the law based on their religion, but not them.

    It will probably get the convicted criminal released from their charges, but I think it’ll move the legislature to want to take that religious exemption out of the law pretty fast when their constituents start calling and demanding to know why child abuse has been legalized in their state.

  • Pustulio

    And yet I am sure these people would describe themselves as “pro-life”.

  • sailor

    The parents should get a Darwin award

  • littlejohn

    Well, no, I don’t think the parents should get a Darwin Award. I think they should get appendicitis.

  • Squidlet

    People like these don’t just believe that faith healing renders a doctor unnecessary; they believe that illnesses are trials sent by God to test them. By going to a doctor for treatment, they believe they would be risking their very salvation. If the person dies, it’s because it was because God decided their time was up. From their perspective, it’s actually better to die than to seek medical care.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-8947-LA-Atheism-Examinerhttp:// dfledermaus

    LOL, littlejohn. If there were a just God, that would be a very appropriate punishment.

  • Hughes

    The bible’s very explicitly anti doctor. A true christian would never go. See 2 Chronicles 16:12, for example. If this is what they want… It’s stupid but so is much of the bible.

  • http://thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com JohnFrost

    It makes me so sick I don’t even want to talk about it, but Hughes and Squidlet are right. Just in case anybody missed Hemant posting it last week:

    http://thenaturalbuddhist.blogspot.com/2009/08/unexamined-life-is-not-worth-living.html

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    My suggestion with stories like this is that we stop using the euphemism “faith healing” and start calling this reckelessness what it really is: faith killing.

  • anonymouse

    This is just nauseating. Religious right to kill your own children. What if I just don’t FEEL like taking my kids to the doctor? Do I have the same rights?
    I feel they should be prosecuted for intentional manslaughter (if there is something like that), minimum.

  • medussa

    I have absolutely no issue with people preferring faith healing (or faith killing, as someone above renamed it) over medical care, as long as they make a conscious choice concerning themselves.
    But it is criminal to subject your children to the excesses of a religious doctrine, when they aren’t considered old enough to vote even, or drink alcohol. That the parents thought he was old enough to choose between death and medical care makes me want to vomit. And then do something evil to them.

  • Old Beezle

    When you’re a minor and raised in an ultra religious family you’re quite likely to simply go along with your parents in matters of faith. That’s obvious and those parents that say their children had a choice are deluded. Their children were given a Hobson’s choice which is no choice at all. These laws are no justice to dead children and ignorance is once again excused by society.

  • http://www.reedsecular.org/freethought-books-project/ Frik

    Even though I go to college in Oregon, I am a Washington resident. I am simply ashamed of my state, and have sent letters to my local papers over this. It’s simply ridiculous that a child should needlessly die, especially of a curable appendicitis.

  • Richard Wade

    Washington’s law specifies that a person treated through faith healing “by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned.”…

    Just duly accredited Christian Science faith healing practitioners? What, no duly accredited Hindu faith healing practitioners? No duly accredited Voodoo faith healing practitioners? No duly accredited Rastafarian faith healing practitioners? No duly accredited Borneo Endemic People’s Animist Shaman faith healing practitioners? No duly accredited…

    So the State of Washington is unconstitutionally favoring one religion’s ability to sanction and excuse stupid, superstitious neglect of children’s health needs, while other religions cannot have a chance to sanction and excuse their own stupid, superstitious neglect of children’s health needs.

    LAWSUIT! LAWSUIT! LAWSUIT! LAWSUIT!

    All religions must have their chance to sanction and excuse their stupid, superstitious neglect of children’s health needs, or none at all.

    After all, adults’ freedom to practice their beliefs should always take precedence over children’s freedom to breathe.

  • Heidi

    My son is 17. If I had a soul, and there was a devil, I’d damn well sell it to him to save my son’s life. These people disgust me.

  • abraxas971

    coming from somebody who’s had an appendicitis
    I can tell you that kid was in some Tremendous pain.It was like the worst stomach ache I had ever had times a 100.I finally woke my mother up at midnight and had her drive me to the emergency room.I dont know how the kid made it without asking to go to the doctor because by the time I went to the hospital I was almost crying in pain.

  • Old Beezle

    it’s shocking how much people are willing to suffer for the gods in their eyes

  • Stephen P

    So, the question becomes, who would have standing to sue? The answer is, someone who has been convicted for killing their child through depriving them of medical care, who did not do so for reasons of religion.

    I suspect that’s a very small group.

    But surely the Washington legislature has a few members who find this exemption bizarre and would be prepared to take action if prompted by a few well thought out letters?

    (As an aside: does anyone else find it bizarre that the URL of that article ends in “/sports”?)

  • Richard P

    I wonder if the last thought as his last spark of awareness blinked out was

    Aww shit……I just wasted my life…

  • Old Beezle

    human sacrifice to the gods is about as pagan as you can get: Christianity is a fraud and a danger

  • ChameleonDave

    My suggestion with stories like this is that we stop using the euphemism “faith healing” and start calling this reckelessness [sic] what it really is: faith killing.

    Except that would be idiotic.

  • http://www.mutedsound.com John Perkins

    coming from somebody who’s had an appendicitis
    I can tell you that kid was in some Tremendous pain.It was like the worst stomach ache I had ever had times a 100.I finally woke my mother up at midnight and had her drive me to the emergency room.I dont know how the kid made it without asking to go to the doctor because by the time I went to the hospital I was almost crying in pain.

    This is what gets me. The pain involved is extraordinary. I’m not sure how he dealt with the pain for that long without begging for a doctor as I did. I was about ready to dig the thing out myself.

    I certainly hope every single person involved in the torture and murder of this kid dies a slow and painful death.

  • girlfawkes

    I just wanted to state that the “General Assembly and Church of the First Born” is in no way affiliated with “Christian Science” (LOL, oxymoron?) and so is exempt to the Washington State law that you have quoted. These people are prosecutable, and they can and should be prosecuted. I have made every effort to bring this story to the forefront in the last few months and it was due to a very few of us speaking loud and clear that the Wenatchee World went to court in order to obtain these records. We can make a difference.

    If interested, please join our discussion @

    http://wenatcheeworld.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090826/NEWS04/708269952

    It would be even more of a shame if Zakk died without anyone loudly advocating for him.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Too bad there is not a way to strip parents of their right to care for their children… oh wait, there is. A little too late for these wack nuts.

  • Will Thompson

    I live and work in East Africa. One of the largest uncontrolled industries in East Africa is religion. “Fake” healers are around every corner. They are pumped up by “Good Christians” from the West, saving and conveting Africans in the name of God. I would love to know the statistics of deaths caused be these “God Fearing” witch doctors is.
    If you are out of cash you just start a crusade with a bunch of loud speakers in an open field and use typical hypnosis skills to enwrap your audience. When that village is out of cash you move on to the next village.


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