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Prayer vs. Pills

March 1996

Religious freedom? Or child abuse? Should parents be held liable for the failure of prayer to heal a dangerously ill child? Can parents deny medical treatment on the basis of religious conviction? Not according to the Supreme Court. The Court recently refused to review the case of McKown v. Lundman and in doing so upheld a ruling by the Minnesota Court of Appeals against a mother and stepfather, both Christian Scientists, who denied insulin to their diabetic son. The boy subsequently died.

In her April, 1995, article "Suffering Children and the Christian Science Church," Caroline Fraser examines the Lundman case, among others, and argues for legislation prohibiting parents from relying on prayer alone to treat potentially life-threatening illnesses that might be cured by conventional medicine.

Stephen Carter, in an Op-Ed piece in the January 31, 1996, New York Times, challenges the wisdom of the Supreme Court's decision. He argues that by punishing religious sects for views that are not consistent with the mainstream the Court has jeopardized the right to religious freedom. In short, Carter writes, ". . . the Justices have left the door open to all sorts of mischief."

Do you agree? Should parents be able to deny conventional medical treatment to their children on religious grounds? Is the Court's decision a victory for children or an infrigement of religious freedom?


  • Read the letters sent to the Atlantic in response to Caroline Fraser's article.


Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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