Commonwealth v. Twitchell

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Commonwealth v. Twitchell
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Full case nameCommonwealth v. David R. Twitchell; Commonwealth v. Ginger Twitchell
DecidedAugust 11, 1993 (1993-08-11)
Citation(s)416 Mass. 114; 617 N.E.2d 609
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingPaul J. Liacos, Herbert P. Wilkins, Ruth Abrams, Joseph R. Nolan, Neil L. Lynch, Francis Patrick O'Connor, John M. Greaney
Case opinions
Decision byWilkins

Commonwealth v. Twitchell, 416 Mass. 114, 617 N.E.2d 609 (1993),[1] was the most prominent of a series of criminal cases, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which parents who were members of the Christian Science church were prosecuted for the deaths of children whose medical conditions had been treated only by Christian Science prayer.

In 1988, Massachusetts prosecutors charged David and Ginger Twitchell with manslaughter in the 1986 death of their two-year-old son Robyn. Robyn Twitchell died of a peritonitis caused by a bowel obstruction that medical professionals declared would have been easily correctable.

The Twitchells' defense contended that the couple were within their First Amendment rights to treat their son's illness with prayer and that Massachusetts had recognized this right in an exemption to the statute outlawing child neglect.

The Twitchells were convicted of involuntary manslaughter. They were sentenced to ten years probation and required to bring their remaining children to regular visits to a pediatrician.[2][3] The conviction was overturned in 1993 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on a legal technicality.[1] Robert Gittens, speaking for the prosecutors' office commented, "the law is now clear: parents cannot sacrifice the lives of their children in the name of religious freedom."[4]


  1. ^ a b "Commonwealth v. Twitchell, 617 N.E.2d 609, 416 Mass. 114 –". CourtListener. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  2. ^ Margolick, David (1990-08-06). "In Child Deaths, a Test for Christian Science". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  3. ^ Sanders, Alain L. (1990-07-16). "Law: Convicted Of Relying on Prayer". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  4. ^ "Court Overturns Conviction of Christian Science Couple". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. 1993-08-12. Retrieved 2013-01-19.

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