THE Michigan Supreme Court has upheld lower court rulings that there was no proper basis for bringing legal action against Christian Science practitioners and their church in connection with the death of Matthew Swan, an infant who died in 1977 as a result of complications of what was medically diagnosed as meningitis. The decision also had the effect of upholding an appellate ruling that stated that the public policy of Michigan favors the ``untrammeled exercise of good faith spiritual healing practices.''
Both the Wayne County Circuit Court and Michigan Court of Appeals had refused to order a trial in this case, which has been in litigation for about 10 years. Attorneys for the child's estate continued to hold out for such a legal forum, insisting that the practitioners, who had prayed for Matthew at his parents' request, were derelict in their duty by wrongly diagnosing the case.
But a lawyer representing the church pointed out that the practitioners never offered any medical diagnosis. He also said that to place the issue before a court would, in effect, put Christian Science beliefs on trial.
The US Constitution, as interpreted by several Supreme Court rulings, does not allow the courts to delve into the inner workings of a religion and evaluate its efficacy.
At issue in a Nov. 1 Michigan Supreme Court hearing was the application of that state's Public Health Code, which exempts from medical licensing standards one who ``in good faith ministers to the ill or suffering by spiritual means alone, through prayer, in the exercise of a religious freedom, and who does not hold himself or herself out to be a health professional.''
The plaintiffs argued that the practitioners had crossed the line of the accommodation for spiritual healing by suggesting causes of the child's illness.
Defendants held that the practitioners offered no medical diagnosis and did not violate the code, since they administered no drugs, medicine, or surgery. Their sole activity was prayer.
The state Supreme Court did not elaborate on its action. It merely denied the appeal, ``because the court is no longer persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court.''