The General Assembly Church of the First Born is a group of churches whose faith healing practices have placed them at odds with the law in more than one instance.
The latest instance comes from Washington State where Gregory and Garnet Swezey were charged and plead not-guilty to the death of their 17 year old son Zachery. In 2009, he died of acute appendicitis in 2009 because his parents chose to pray rather than seek medical attention.
According to charging documents, Gregory Swezey told Okanogan County Sheriff’s detectives that he knew his son would die 10 to 15 minutes before Zachery passed away, and did not call an ambulance. He also told detectives that he asked Zachery if he wanted to go to the hospital, and his son declined.
They are members of the aforementioned church which has a history of promoting faith healing and refusing medical care. A 15 year old indoctrinated by his parents cannot be said to be able to make an informed choice. The Rick Ross Institute has a long list of offensives by this church.
Six children in state custody
Parents charged in death of teen
Test results still pending in Creswell teen’s death
Creswell teen’s death under investigation
Faith-based healing reviewed
Woman who relied on faith healing charged with neglect after son dies
Questions still linger over Carlton boy’s death
Midwife ordered to stop delivering babies
Family Says Church Allowed Woman To Die Following Childbirth
Jury indicts midwife in June death of newborn
Indiana Couple Sentenced in Baby’s Death
Couple would use prayer again
Baby deaths don’t shake church’s faith
New baby death in faith-healing congregation
Jury convicts parents in baby’s death
Father Testifies in Baby Death Trial
Jurors hear father’s thoughts on care
Trial Set To Begin For Couple Accused Of Letting Baby Die
Court dates set in case involving infant’s death
Church supports couple who denied newborn medical treatment
Parents indicted in baby’s death
Faith-Healing Parents May Face Charges After Baby Dies
Girl’s death leads to questions of belief
Faith-Healing Church Linked to Several Deaths, Says Coroner
Deputies examine infant’s death
Infant dies after parents reject aid
Church elder: Faith cures sick people, not doctors
Colo. Couple Sentenced to Probation
Parents plead guilty in faith-healing death
Faith in divine healing unshaken by deaths, law
Owens signs faith-healing bill
Senate Panel Backs Faith-Healing Ban When Kids At Risk
Charges follow faith-healing death
Christian Scientists oppose measure
Freedom of Religion or State-Sanctioned Child Abuse?
Colorado Children’s Deaths Rekindle Debate on Religion
Infection death ruled homicide
Prayed-over girl died of untreated diabetes
Faith healer parents probed in child death
Death of teen in sect probed
Born to Believe
Parents who relied on faith healing are cleared in baby’s death
Prosecutors contemplate charges in infant’s death
Church holds fast to healing beliefs
Clifton infant’s death won’t be ruled homicide
Death raises church-state questions anew
Baby dies after medical care withheld
Man who let his son die loses appeal
There are many jurisdictions who have removed the defence of religious belief from criminal cases, and Canada does not have an exemption from prosecution for religious belief, although occasionally deaths still occur. A 2011 report for the Canadian Medical Association examined the issue.
An investigation led by Asser published in Pediatrics found that between 1975 and 1995, 172 children died following faith healing, 140 from easily curable or treatable medical conditions Pediatrics 1998;101:625-9). In one case, a two-year-old girl choked on a banana and showed signs of life for an hour before dying, while her parents and other adults simply prayed.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, most states had faith healing exemptions in their child abuse and neglect laws. Nineteen states still allow religious defences for felony crimes against children.
The primary offenders in Canada are the Jehovah Witnesses, and fortunately deaths are rare.
However, while children of Jehovah’s Witnesses have died as a result of parents’ refusals to approve blood transfusions, the deaths often occur during the time it takes doctors to prove to the courts that transfusions are medically necessary.
These incidences only itemize the deaths of children due to preventing medical care. There is no way to document the non-lethal harm to children or the impact on adult believers.
Christian Science is another group well known for their avoidance of modern medicine. Their approach, however, is a bit more complex, the advocate spirituality as the first choice, but weasel a bit on more effective care.
It’s up to each person who practices Christian Science to choose the form of health care he or she wants. Many Christian Scientists decide to pray first about every challenge—including health issues—and find it effective. Many health care professionals today are recognizing options outside of conventional medicine. Christian Scientists recognize and respect the interests of medical professionals and don’t oppose them. We all care about the preventative and curative aspects of health care. Like all systems of healing, the track record for Christian Science isn’t perfect. But, over 80,000 Christian Science healings have been published throughout the past 140 years, including severe cases.
I wonder how many of those ‘healings’ would stand up to critical examination.
John Clague, a spokesman for the Christian Science church in Oregon, said he supported the new law because of the high number of child deaths in the Followers of Christ Church. When asked about the 28 deceased Christian Science children in the
Pediatrics investigation, he lamented their deaths, saying that “unlike some other churches, we don’t say these deaths are God’s will.” He claimed his church leaders expect their followers to seek medical care for their children when faith healing “isn’t
working” or in situations where a child may die for lack of care.
But the Christian Science church “continues to support religious accommodations for the responsible practice of spiritual healing,” says Adam Scherr, the church’s national
Again, it is impossible to determine how much death and suffering has been caused by delays in reaching out for medical care after God hasn’t been in a healing mood.
It is easy enough to criticize these relativity religious groups that mostly lie on the fringes of the mainstream for their concepts of faith healing. However, we are also surrounded by such charlatans as Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff; such religious scams as Lourdes, and practitioners of Chinese Traditional Medicine. New scams based upon unproven treatments and diets are arising almost daily. They all have two things in common with religious healing–they are based upon faith, and they don’t work.