Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty
|Key people||Rita Swan, president; Ken Stringer, board chairman|
Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD) is an American non-profit membership organization that works to stop child abuse and neglect based on religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and quackery. CHILD opposes religious exemptions from child health and safety laws. These exemptions have been used as a defense in criminal cases when parents have withheld lifesaving medical care on religious grounds. These exemptions also have discouraged reporting and investigation of religion-based medical neglect of children and spawned many outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. CHILD publicizes the ideological abuse and neglect of children, lobbies for equal protection laws for children, and files lawsuits and amicus curiae briefs in related cases.
CHILD was founded in 1983 by Rita and Douglas Swan after the death of their son, Matthew. The Swans were persuaded not to seek medical treatment for him by Christian Science practitioners, who claimed they were healing him. When the practitioner said Matthew might have a broken bone and that Christian Scientists were allowed to go to a doctor for setting broken bones, the Swans took their baby to a hospital, but it was too late to save him.
According to the National Association of Counsel for Children, which gave an award to Rita Swan for her efforts, "Due in large part to CHILD's efforts, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Hawaii, and Oregon have removed laws which provided exemptions from prosecution to parents who fail to provide medical care for their sick children based on religion."
The mission of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty is to end child abuse or neglect related to religion, cultural practices, or quackery through public education, research, and a limited amount of lobbying.
- Laws requiring medical care of children, including preventive and diagnostic measures, without exception for religious belief
- Reporting of child abuse and neglect without religious exemption
- Licensing of child care facilities, including those run by churches
- Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child
Rita and Douglas Swan founded CHILD as a legacy to their son, Matthew. In 1977 he became ill with bacterial meningitis. The Swans, Christian Scientists at the time, were persuaded by Christian Scientist practitioners – the religion's name for its spiritual healers – not to seek medical treatment for their son. The Swans did take Matthew to the hospital after he had been ill for 12 days, but his illness had progressed too far, and he died. Motivated by this tragedy, CHILD works to eliminate religious exemptions in child health and safety laws. Parents belonging to various religions, in particular Christian Science, have used these exemptions as legal defenses in criminal cases for failing to provide medical care for children who then died.
The Swans left the Christian Science Church, and CHILD and Rita Swan have worked "relentlessly" to publicize cases of religion-related child abuse and neglect. In 1998, Seth Asser and Rita Swan published a benchmark study in Pediatrics analyzing 140 child deaths in which medical treatment was withheld. This study showed that 90% of these children would have survived with routine medical care.
In 1996 Congress added to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act a provision that nothing in the act can “be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide any medical service or treatment that is against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.” CHILD has opposed this provision on several fronts. CHILD’s work has led to the repeal of some or all religious exemptions to child neglect laws in Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Hawaii, Oregon, Minnesota, Ohio, and Rhode Island. In 2009 CHILD lobbied successfully to remove provisions from the federal Affordable Care Act that would have provided government funding and mandated insurance company payment for faith healing that includes no medical care.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): 2012 President's Certificate for Outstanding Service awarded to Rita Swan, MA, PhD for efforts in children's rights to medical care and decades of work with the AAP on these issues.
- Iowa Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action: 6 June 2010 Outstanding Social Justice Work Award.
- Omicron Delta Kappa chapter at Morningside College: 27 April 2003 Honoris Causa Award.
- National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC): 2001 Outstanding Legal Advocacy Award received by Rita Swan, MA, PhD for working to protect children from religious-based medical neglect through policy advocacy and amicus curiae work.
- Oregon Pediatric Society: 17 June 2000 Child Advocacy Service Award.
- Oregon Peace Officers Association Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Investigators: 2 November 1999 Award for Child Advocacy.
- The Giraffe Heroes Project: 12 January 1993 Award for Risk-Taking and Service.
- Sioux City Human Rights Commission: 2 May 1991 Human Rights Service Award.
- South Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics: 14 September 1990 Child Advocacy Service Award.
- Publishing a newsletter
- Filing lawsuits and amicus curiae briefs
- Supporting laws that protect children against medical neglect
- Providing emotional support for victims of religion-based medical neglect
- Providing speakers
- Collecting and disseminating information about court cases and state and federal laws
The Swans filed a wrongful death suit against the Christian Science Church in 1980, but it was dismissed on First Amendment grounds, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their case on appeal. In 2000, CHILD sued the Director of the Health Care Financing Administration and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. v. Min De Parle), over federal healthcare monies being directed to Christian Science facilities and others that provide no medical treatment. The suit, alleging a violation of the establishment clause, was dismissed with summary judgment; on appeal, the judgment was upheld, and the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. Other legal cases include CHILD Inc. and Brown v. Deters challenging Ohio's religious defense to child endangerment and manslaughter (ORC 2919.22a) and CHILD Inc. v. Vladeck against the federal government's use of Medicare and Medicaid funds for Christian Science nursing.
Testimony before legislatures
- Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee, 26 April 2011
- Oregon House Judiciary Committee, 21 February 2011
- Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Children and Families, 17 March 2010
- Nebraska State Legislature, Health and Human Services Committee, 25 January 2007
- Iowa House Education Subcommittee, January 2006
- Maine Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, May 2005
- Nebraska State Legislature, Education Committee, February 2005
- Rhode Island House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee, February 2004
- Missouri House Judiciary Committee, April 2003
- Colorado Senate Health, Environment, Children, and Families Committee, April 2001
- Maryland House Judiciary Committee, March 2001
- Colorado House Criminal Justice Committee, February 2001
- Oregon House Criminal Law Committee, March 1999
- South Dakota House and Senate Health and Human Services Committees, February 1998
- Michigan House Judiciary Committee, February 1997
- U. S. Senate Labor and Human Resources staff briefing, June 1995
- Minnesota House Judiciary Committee, March 1994
- Minnesota House Judiciary Committee, December 1991
- Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee, March 1991
- South Dakota House State Affairs Committee, January 1990
- California Assembly Committee on Public Safety, October 1989
- Ohio House Children and Youth Committee, March 1989
- Ohio House Children and Youth Subcommittee, March 1985
- North Dakota House of Representatives, January 1979
- Swan, Rita (winter 2009-2010), "Matthew, you cannot be sick", The Dublin Review (Dublin, Ireland: Brendan Barrington) (37): 43–69, ISSN 1393-998X
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- Swan, Rita (2010). "Prayer-fee mandates removed from federal health care bills". ICSA Today (International Cultic Studies Association) 1 (2): 18–21. ISSN 2154-820X.
- Swan, Rita (2011). "Chapter 63: Religion and Child Neglect". In Jenny, Carole. Child Abuse and Neglect: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Evidence (1st ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences. pp. 599–604. ISBN 978-1-4160-6393-3.
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- "Religion-based medical neglect and corporal punishment must not be tolerated". The APSAC Advisor (American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children) 11: 2–3. Spring 1998. ISSN 1088-3819.
- Swan, R. (1997). "Children, medicine, religion, and the law". Advances in Pediatrics (Mosby: Elsevier) 44: 491–543. ISSN 0065-3101. PMID 9265980.
- "Discrimination de jure: Religious exemptions for medical neglect". The APSAC Advisor (American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children) 7: 35–8. Winter 1994. ISSN 1088-3819.
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