Is Mrs. Eddy in the House? Senate?

NuRRDayPicESo sad, and so predictable.

Another “faith-healing” tragedy. Another dead child. Another newspaper article.

As tmatt noted in a recent post on a case where parents were sentenced for allowing their ill daughter to die, sometimes the media doesn’t recognize that there as “church-state” facets to a story where “faith-healing” is the obvious lede.

As he noted, it’s not clear sometimes when the government has a right to step in and intervene if a child appears to be in danger — even supposing that state and local governments were that effective. Which we know they often aren’t, from news accounts of atrocities against children that local or state agencies didn’t catch.

If parents were sentenced and jailed for stupidity or poor medical care, there wouldn’t be room for most of the other criminals. And, as tmatt also pointed out, you can’t stop faith-healing parents from having children.

I can see why reporters have a hard time covering the bases on these stories, but it doesn’t serve readers well when they don’t give some broad context.

Keep the church-state angle in mind when you read this article in Philadelphia’s Daily News a few days ago on the death of a two-year-old boy from bacterial pneumonia. The Daily News, a feisty tabloid with some excellent writers, is viewed as the Philadelphia Inquirer’sworking-class sister — and has less space to get into details.

What’s interesting here is what isn’t said, in spite of the headline — the defense apparently isn’t going to argue religious freedom, but well -intentioned, clueless (he had a cold) parenting. Note also that it seems like the parents have hired two lawyers — I don’t know if this is routine, but it could become ugly.

Here are a few of the facts:

After the two attorneys representing the Schaibles argued for their innocence, Municipal Judge Patrick Dugan held them for trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child.

“When you look at this case, it’s obvious that what you have are loving parents who also appear to be misguided,” Dugan told the couple. “Your child needed medical care. As parents, that’s what your duty is, and that’s why you are here in court today.”

The Schaibles’ case is similar to a growing number around the country in which parents are slapped with criminal charges for turning to religion rather than medical care for sick children who later die.

Herbert Schaible, 41, and Catherine Schaible, 40, of Rhawn Street near Bustleton Avenue, are free on bail and will be arraigned on Oct. 28.

They are members of the First Century Gospel Church, in the Northeast, which believes that the sick can be healed through prayer rather than by medicine, according to statements that the couple gave homicide detectives two days after their son’s death.

I’m not sure what author Mensah M. Dean means here by “growing number across the country.” Perhaps Dean means that prosecutions in such cases are growing, but doesn’t give readers any evidence. Upon first scrutiny, it appears that Mrs. Schaible’s attorney is going to argue not that the state is unfairly infringing on the Schaible’s role as parents, but that they are being punished for having different beliefs.

Francis Carmen, Catherine Schaible’s attorney, said that the couple’s decision to forgo medical attention was not due to their religion, but because they thought Kent had a cold.

“The commonwealth wants to use [the Schaible's] religious beliefs as a self-fulfilling prophecy that, somehow, because they are different and because they exercise religious beliefs that are not necessarily in line with the majority of us,” he said, “that is the cause of them failing to recognize that this child was as ill as he was.”

There are a lot of provocative quotes and hints in this article, but not enough background to give us a sense of where this case is going — and given that the little boy just died, that may be too much to expect.

There has been some coverage of the Catholic bishops and the health-care bill. Well, a story written by Letitia Stein and posted on the Tampabay.com website last week brought new light to another little-covered front in the healthcare debate — the effect mandating health insurance would have on possibly shifting those volatile church-state benchmarks.

Some of the bills advancing in the House and Senate would exempt religious objectors from mandates to obtain health coverage. More controversial is Christian Science’s wish to see its prayer-based healing approach covered like conventional medical treatment. And they want spiritual options to be available to all Americans, not just those who follow their religion.

“It’s so important that anyone in this country, not just Christian Scientists, not be discriminated against because they use spiritual care or rely on it instead of conventional medical treatment,” said Phil Davis, who manages media and legislative affairs for Christian Scientists globally.

The Church of Christ, Scientist does not require its members to forgo medical treatment but promotes prayer as a route to healing, a philosophy rooted in the healing ministries of Jesus Christ.

I don’t know about you, but a lot of the information Stein gives readers was news to me. Did you know that John Kerry (Democrat of Massachusetts) and Orrin Hatch (Republican of Utah) were involved in advocating for bills that would support the goals of those who practice Christian Science and perhaps other prayer-based denominations (it’s not clear exactly what they are supporting)? I wish Stein had dug deeper into whether the bills allow for services not connected to mainstream medical care.

Voters may be interested in learning more about the possible religious exemptions and their implications. Why aren’t those politicians and practitioners who advocate for religious exemptions, and faith healing (or mind healing) as alternative medicine getting more attention from the media? Is there conviction behind their stances, and if so, what is it?

If members of Congress are considering allowing payments to Christian Science counselors, it’s difficult not to wonder what other practitioners will ask to be reimbursed, too. This article was a good start in highlighting some of the issues — but as the health care bills get debated I hope we see more coverage to determine if, in fact, the goalposts for church state relationships and faith vs. science are indeed being moved by our lawmakers.

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  • http://www.jonswerens.com Jon Swerens

    I wonder: Would the church’s own Web site be used against the parents in this case? From http://www.fcgchurch.com/Sermons/Eternal%20Life%20By%20Faith.htm:

    “Trusting God for health and healing is a vital and integral part of the true Christian life of faith. Many believe that they will enter heaven, even though they never trusted God in faith for healing. The entire message of the Bible is that God heals those who trust Him in faith. From the first recorded healing to the last, they never took medicine nor had a doctor, but trusted God in faith. All were healed without cost and without any merit on their part—only on the shed blood of Christ.”

    Etc.

  • Dave

    I wonder if the Kerry-Hatch provisions would cover yoga and acupuncture as well, health and healing modalities in wide use outside the US but unrecognized (unexamined?) by Western medicine. If so, or if they cover Christian Science but not yoga or acupuncture, that would be a story that would resonate, if some reporter would dig out the facts.

  • Pingback: Children die of faith healing while we debate the law « BaptistPlanet

  • Brian Walden

    They are members of the First Century Gospel Church, in the Northeast, which believes that the sick can be healed through prayer rather than by medicine, according to statements that the couple gave homicide detectives two days after their son’s death.

    I wonder about the reporter’s word choice of “can” rather than “should.” There’s a huge difference in meaning between the two words. Many people believe that the sick can be healed through prayer, but only a tiny fraction of them forgo medical treatment because of that belief.

  • bob

    Hmmm. Maybe put the parents in a closed and locked room and instruct them to pray for food and water?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Dave – Orrin Hatch does, in fact, support all kinds of “alternative medicine”: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/maybe_nccam_isnt_so_bad_after_allnahhh.php

    And I think the story above mischaracterizes the debate. I don’t know of anyone proposing that parents be “sentenced and jailed for stupidity or poor medical care”. I’ve seen a lot of people wanting parents “sentenced and jailed” for putting children at substantial risk because of “stupidity or poor medical care”, though.

  • Dave

    Ray, I went to that site and read a lot about Senator Tom Harkin but nothing about Senator Orrin Hatch.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Yup, sorry, Dave. I mucked up on the link, but Hatch was one of the co-sponsors with Harkin as champions of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine:

    http://www.ncahf.org/digest/01-49.html
    http://chp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/5/3/233
    http://www.scientificblogging.com/rugbyologist/festival_idiots_6_tom_harkin_wasting_120m


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