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Christian Scientists and the medical profession: a historical perspective

From the January 1991 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Medical Heritage

The immediate question for the medical community in 1910 was how to respond to the nearly one hundred thousand followers of Christian Science. Public policy was unclear. Some favored allowing Christian Scientists freedom of practice while others felt they should be unqualifiedly restricted. Opinions differed inside as well as outside the medical profession on the proper dividing line between individual choice and state authority.

The battles over the legal standing of spiritual healing extended from the courts to state legislatures. In some states as in Rhode Island following the Mylod case medical boards lobbied for legislation expressly banning the practice of Christian Science. Others wanted state statutes revised to expand the definition of the "practice of medicine" to include all forms of non-medical healing. This approach had the tactical advantage of appearing less discriminatory toward a particular religious group, though such measures could, in actuality, be almost as restrictive in their ultimate effect as a specific legal injunction. Mark Twain—no friend of Christian Science—noted ironically in 1903 that "if the Second Advent should happen now," Jesus himself "could not heal the sick in the state of New York" under the medical practice acts then being proposed. Mark Twain, Christian Science (1907; reprint, New York: Prometheus Books, 1986), p. 80 .

Medical societies in virtually every state worked vigorously to mobilize support for these enactments. The Albany Morning Express reported in 1899 that Philadelphia physicians planned "to commence a national war against the Christian Scientists," with its ultimate goal of persuading Congress to act against the group. Albany Morning Express excerpt from "Persecuting a Cult" reprinted in Christian Science Sentinel, July 13, 1899 In New York several hundred physicians and a number of interested lawyers met at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the summer of 1899 to form a "Medical and Legal Relief Society." Their purpose was to lobby in the state legislature against Christian Scientists. The AMA [American Medical Association] went on record endorsing a Detroit physician's suggestion that candidates for the legislature be supported or opposed according to their position on the "legal toleration or recognition" of Christian Science—surely one of the more unusual political litmus tests in American history. "A Test for 'Christian Scientists,' " Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), vol. 34 (1900), p. 759 .

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