Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are Christian Scientists either?

I've written before about Rita Swan of Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty (CHILD) and the wonderful work they do, trying to end faith healing practices and religious exemptions in America. (Clearly, her passions are right up my alley.)

During my days in internet Siberia, she sent me a link to her recent Op-Ed on a Christin Science-created religious exemption in the upcoming health bill from the Senate HELP Committee. Here's the op-ed in full, with my comments following after.

Does one bizarre health care policy merit another?

By Rita Swan

Tucked into the health care reform bill passed by Sen. Harkin’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee is a mandate that insurers reimburse for “religious or spiritual health care” that is classified as a deductible medical care expense by the Internal Revenue Service. See S.1679, Section 3103(a)(1)(D).

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on which Congressman Bruce Braley sits has added a similar measure to the House health care reform bill. See Section 125 of HR3200.

The Internal Revenue Service allows bills sent by Christian Science practitioners for their prayers to be deducted from income tax as a medical care expense. The agency has declined requests to provide evidence that Christian Science heals disease.

Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy directed church practitioners to “make their charges for treatment equal to those of reputable physicians in their respective localities.” (First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 237) These treatments consist only of prayer.

These practitioners set their own rates, but sometimes their charges are indeed comparable to medical bills. In 1989, Christian Science healer Mario Tosto charged parents $446 for two days of prayer-treatment for Ian Lundman, an 11-year-old Minnesota boy with diabetes.

The boy died.

In Michigan, an insurance company balked at paying a Christian Science practitioner’s bill of $1,775 for her prayers on top of medical bills for the patient. The couple sued the company, which then settled out of court. Stephenson v. State Farm, 48th District Court, as reported in Michigan Trial Lawyers Association newsletter, October 1986.

The IRS has an extremely broad definition of deductible medical care. Any service primarily intended to affect “some structure or function of the body” is medical care. The “experience, qualification, or title of the person rendering services” is irrelevant.

Whether anyone besides the person paying for the service thinks it is medical is irrelevant. Bills incurred for anyone’s prayers or healing rituals are deductible medical care. (For verification, see these sources: IR Ruling 55-261, 1955-1 C.B. 307, IR Ruling 63-91, 1963-1 C.B. 54, and Fischer v. Commissioner, 50 T.C. 164, 194 (1968)).

Fortunately, most religions do not send bills for their prayers. And the IRS’s bizarre, loosey-goosey policy may not have cost the public a lot of money to date because taxpayers can deduct only medical care bills that are higher than 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income and then only a percentage according to their tax bracket.

If, however, the federal government forces the insurance industry to pay for prayer, a new cottage industry will likely spring up and Christian Science practitioners will likely raise their prices.

Even more serious is that the Christian Science church will use the federal law as another argument that Christian Science “treatment” should be a legal substitute for medical care of sick children.

There will be more laws like West Virginia’s religious defense to fatal neglect of a child when parents withhold medical care and instead rely on prayer-treatment “if fees and expenses incurred in connection with such treatment are permitted to be deducted from taxable income as ‘medical expenses’ pursuant to regulations or rules promulgated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. (West Virginia Code 61-8D-4a(b)).

Iowa’s religious defense to felony child endangerment and manslaughter at Iowa Code 726.6(d) has been justified on similar grounds.

The government should not be forcing anyone to pay for prayer. We urge Congress to remove all provisions in the health care reform bills that require insurers to reimburse for prayer or any other “health care” that is not evidence-based.

Rita Swan is president of Sioux City-based Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD, Inc.), a non-profit national membership organization established to protect children from abusive religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect. For more information, visit

If only we'd been Christian Scientists, instead of non-denominational cult members, I could have made money off all that faith healing I was giving away for free! PZ over at Pharyngula also wrote about Christian Scientist earlier this month.

Now I'm going to ask each of you to help. Yes of course I've drafted a new petition to Congress and the President for you to sign. You'll notice once there that you can Twit, Digg, Facebook or otherwise spread the word. Please do. This is one of the most important things I've asked of you. If this language sneaks its way through the final bill, it will make repealing religious exemption laws in various states much, much harder. This is a really important battle in the war for children's rights to health and safety.

Spread the word. Blog about this. Submit op-eds to your own papers, and when they get published, link them here. Change your Facebook status to a link for this petition and leave it that way, or Tweet this petition a couple times a day. I know information is very fast paced, and it can be easy to lose sight of one issue amongst the many, but I am asking you (nicely, and from the bottom of my heart) to keep this issue in your focus and on your mind. Go be little activists, please. Don't assume that jut because a family member, friend, or coworker is a theist they won't be interested in signing these. My mother is still a devout Christian (I think she's a Methodist at the moment) and my sister is a fundie evangelical: They both sign all my child protection petitions.

So, there's your first ATAT Homework assignment. Sign the petition, and if you're a verbally gifted type (or even just good at basic communication) write an op-ed or a blog post. Send them back here. Or just add a link to this petition as the closing line of your email. Just don't let this issue fade from sight among all the news stories cropping up each day. Keep this important and keep it promoted and maybe we can stop this train wreck before it happens.

"No one you knew then is still alive. You know that, don't you?"
"If I can't do what I want, I'll at least do what I can."
- from "Mirror Dance" by Lois McMaster Bujold