Governmental Intervention in and Punishment for the Use of Spiritual Healing Methods

Catharine Cookson

in Regulating Religion

Published in print May 2001 | ISBN: 9780195129441
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834105 | DOI:
Governmental Intervention in and Punishment for the Use of Spiritual Healing Methods

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The use of spiritual healing methods by parents to heal their children presents a hard free exercise case, and this chapter examines several of these key cases from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Criminalization of Christian Science parents whose children have died in spite of their healing efforts is not appropriate if the parents do not have the paradigmatic mens rea, characteristic of manslaughter/child abuse cases (especially under the common law standards). Typically, the parents had intended the best for the child by using healing methods that they had proven work in their own lives and in the experience of their church (founded over 125 years ago). On the other hand, limited civil interventions by the state on behalf of children may very well be justified. The parents’ religious values (including their conception of beneficence) and the value of personal autonomy directly clash with the state's conception of beneficence. Where there are directly conflicting goods at stake, casuistry has no clear answers. Yet, with its emphasis on context, use of analogy, and critique of unexamined assumptions, casuistry offers the fairest method of dealing with this most difficult genre of cases.

Keywords: beneficence; children; Christian Science; civil interventions; conflicting goods; criminalization; free exercise of rights; personal autonomy; spiritual healing; unexamined assumptions

Chapter.  19201 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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