Friday, July 28, 2017
Bringing Good Out of Tragedy: Rita Swan and CHILD
Almost forty years ago, Rita Swan and her husband, then devout Christian Scientists, prayed and watched as their toddler son died without the medical treatment that could have saved his life. Many people would emerge from this experience embittered or self-loathing and turn to drugs or alcohol to sustain them in a lifetime effort to avoid their memories.
Instead of succumbing to bitterness, Rita and her husband created an organization that has worked ever since to help educate parents and to push for legislation and law enforcement countering religious practices that bring suffering and possible death to young children. The organization is CHILD-- Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty. Rita has maintained two websites, www.childrenshealthcare.org and www.idahochildren.org. Childrenshealthcare.org contains material about all the work of the organization over the years and describes a multitude of cases in which mistaken beliefs caused harm to children. The most recent newsletter from CHILD recounts events of faith-based medical neglect in Idaho, and the position of one group of parents that children have no rights, that there are many medical errors made, and that medicine is in any case “of Satan”. This group apparently reports neither births nor deaths of children, so it is impossible to know how many children have died unnecessarily, but there are many child graves on the group’s property.
Rita Swan is now retiring as president of CHILD and the work of the organization is being taken over by the legal scholar Marci Hamilton of the University of Pennsylvania. The new organization’s website is www.childusa.org. Much remains to be done, and in a final letter Rita Swan states that she will continue to work on issues in Washington State, where Christian Scientists are exempt from charges of criminal mistreatment, second-degree murder, and failure to report abuse.
No one says that it is always easy to know when it is right to give children medical treatment and when it is right to withhold it. The recent case of the infant Charlie Gard has shown some of the many conflicts over decisions that no more can be done for a child and that further attempts simply prolong suffering. However, arguments based on the ideas that children have no rights, or that a supreme being will be insulted by parents’ lack of faith if they seek medical help, really cannot be allowed to influence either difficult or easy decisions about children’s health care. Nor, in spite of all respect and concern for parents’ relationships with their children, can a community allow parents to make decisions alone while under the enormous stress of caring for a very sick child. We all have a stake in these decisions and the precedents they set for the future.
Rita Swan has done so much to clarify personal and legal thinking on these issues. Thank you, Rita, from everyone concerned with children’s welfare!