April 12, 2015
As It Must to All Men…

Something I never knew or more likely forgot, this from a book review in today’s New York Times:

Since the early 1900s, parents who willfully withheld medicine in the name of religion have been prosecuted and convicted. But, Offit tell us, beginning in the ’70s, the prosecutors’ task became difficult. The blame for this setback can be ascribed to two powerful men in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, both famous for their roles in the Watergate scandal, and both Christian Scientists. They became involved because of Lisa Sheridan, a 5-year-old who in 1967 died of pneumonia. Her mother, Dorothy, a Christian Scientist, had opted for prayer instead of antibiotics. The autopsy of the child showed a quart of pus in her chest, and the Massachusetts district attorney charged Sheridan with manslaughter. She was sentenced to five years’ probation. This was around the time when Walter Mondale was working to introduce the landmark Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (Capta).

“Elders in the Christian Science church saw the trial of Dorothy Sheridan as a wake-up call,” Offit writes. “If she could be prosecuted for following the tenets of her faith, all of them were at risk. Capta was about to shine an unwanted light on their way of life. Something had to be done. So church authorities turned to the two men they were certain could help.”

Haldeman and Ehrlichman inserted a religious exemption into Capta: “No parent or guardian who in good faith is providing a child treatment solely by spiritual means — such as prayer — according to the tenets and practices of a recognized church through a duly accredited practitioner shall for that reason alone be considered to have neglected the child.”

Ehrlichman wavered in his faith by accepting dialysis treatments in 1999, and then died after discontinuing them. Haldeman, resolute in his nuttiness, refused treatment for the cancer that killed him anyway in 1993.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at April 12, 2015 03:52 PM
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