Christian Science: Couple Found Guilty of Manslaughter
David and Ginger Twitchell, faithful members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, have been found guilty of manslaughter in the 1986 death of their 2-1/2 year-old son, Robyn.
Following Church beliefs, they failed to seek medical help for their sick son, whose bowel obstruction worsened resulting in his painful death.
Instead of doctors and medicine, the Church instructs followers to seek healing through faith and prayer alone. The practice is based on the teachings of founder Mary Baker Eddy that sickness and disease are not actually real but a manifestation of wrong thinking.
The Twitchell's case was tried in Suffolk District Court in Boston which also happens to be the world headquarters for the Church whose current membership is estimated at 170,000 (Dallas Times Herald, 16 April 1990, p. A-3).
The Boston case is the latest of several examples of legal action against Christian Science parents who have withheld life-saving medical treatment to their minor children.
Prosecutors in five states are challenging the Christian Sci¬ence practice of denying medicine and health care for treatable illnesses to children who have subsequently died from these illnesses (U.S. News & World Report, 6 Nov. 1989, p. 75).
Nathan Talbot, national spokesman for Christian Science's Mother Church, contends that, "...parents who believe in the method of spiritual healing advocated by the Christian Science Church should be free to reject medical treatment for their children without legal penalty," (Tulsa World, 11 March 1990, p. A-3).
Concerning recent Christian Science manslaughter cases, Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota, observed:
"When a child's death could have been prevented, society is correct in insisting that parents be held accountable, even if their failure to call the doctor is based on a deep and abiding religious commitment to a non-medical form of healing," (Ibid).