What could be sadder than the death of a child? Nothing, surely, other than the tragedy being compounded by prosecution of the parents, adding to their grief and raising disturbing legal questions.
An AP wire story in The Buffalo News reported a recent trial in which a Florida couple were found guilty of third-degree murder and child abuse because they chose the "wrong" method of treatment for their child. As Christian Scientists, the couple decided to turn to spiritual healing, a method recognized in Florida law.
So much attention has been given to the trial itself that it has been easy to lose sight of some basic facts about the parents and their decision. By all accounts they loved their child profoundly. Out of this love, they turned to God in a way that brought physical healing to their family in the past. They are not alone, Families have chosen spiritual healing over the last 100 years because it has healed countless people, including many children, facing serious illnesses. Many have been healed of conditions medically diagnosed as incurably and even terminal.
People who know the parents well -- including a local medical doctor -- have given a picture of them that simply wouldn't involve pitting religious principles against a child in grave need, or denying care and treatment to a child. Like other loving parents, they chose a form of treatment that had been effective in prior experience.
Should parents be charged with murder because healing was not forthcoming in a particular case -- when they were relying on a method of healing that has a substantial history? (Only a very small number of children are lost under Christian Science care.)
Dr. C. Lawrence, author of "Taking Care of Your Medical Fate," provides some perspective when he writes: "There are people in America today who will lose their lives, not because of their disease but because they will choose one doctor's door to open rather than another's." Society wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- consider prosecuting parents because they choose the wrong doctor's door. Or because they stick with medical treatment in spite of the child's worsening, even though such a condition has been healed through Christian Science on many occasions.
Society doesn't bring such cruel reasoning to bear on the thousands of families who lose children under conventional medical care each year. And it shouldn't bring such reasoning to bear on the handful of Christian Science parents who have lost children over the last five years.
Unless society recognizes the larger implications of charging these parents with murder, an individual tragedy will be compounded so as to set an unjust precedent and deprive people of an approach to healing that has benefited so many.
NATHAN A. TALBOT
Committees on Publication
First Church of Christ, Scientist