Christian Science and Mandatory Healthcare

An article in today’s Knoxville News caused me to reflect yet again about the state of healthcare in our country, these United States. The essence of the article was the focus that Christian Scientists do not believe in modern medical practice, but rather in the power of prayer, so should they not be allowed to opt out of paying for the Affordable Care Act?

The Christian Scientists interviewed for the article were by no means stupid or foolish. One stated clearly that they wanted healthcare to be available to all. Well, yes, but then you do have to pay for it.

The reasons why Christian Scientists, and indeed everyone else, needs to help pay for healthcare for all are manifold. Lets start with the simple: even the most dogmatic of practitioners must admit that there are circumstances where they would want to rely on modern medicine. If they are in an accident, or a fire breaks out, or if someone targets them in a drive-by shooting, surely they don’t think prayer alone will repair broken limbs, soothe burns or remove bullets.

The next point will be more controversial, but it needs to be said. When there are minor children involved, there is a genuine and important conflict between parental rights and the health and welfare of the child–and I think the child’s welfare overrules parental rights. It is one thing to deny a child a medical professional for the common cold, but quite another to prevent that child from receiving care for life threatening illnesses or immunizations intended to protect not only one’s own child, but everyone else in the community. I come down in this issue on the side of the power of the state to intervene and require that competent medical professionals be empowered to care for seriously ill children, and to require immunizations for all children.

One issue which often arises is that of compulsory payment. As far as I know, Christian Scientists have never claimed the right to be exempt from the Medicare Tax which is shared among all employees. We do not allow Quakers or other pacifists to opt out of the income taxes required to fund our military. People are allowed to change their religious affiliations whenever they please–just how would we be able to deal with folks who opt in and opt out of one religion or another over their lifespans?

This past year saw the infamous “Hobby Lobby” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which I believe may go down as the among the worst decisions ever made by that body, on a par with the Dred Scott decision which helped lead to the Civil War. The Court held that Hobby Lobby could not be compelled to pay for health insurance which included abortion options. But what if a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to paying for insurance that covers blood transfusions?

Of course I’m not suggesting that Christian Scientists should not have the right to decline medical attention. And perhaps their healthful lifestyles and meditative practices will lead to better lives and lower medical costs. Hopefully that is its own reward and they will not begrudge the lower costs and better protections that will result for everyone else.


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