Abraham Verghese in The New York Times:
On June 17, 1977, Rita and Doug Swan noticed that Matthew, their 15-month-old child, was having difficulty walking. Both parents were raised in the Christian Science faith, and they called a Christian Science practitioner, Jeanne Laitner, to pray for the child. Rita’s prior experience with an illness of her own is relevant to this choice: When repeated prayer “treatments” failed to give her relief from a painful ovarian cyst, she allowed physicians to operate. But she was viewed as having abandoned her faith. She was no longer permitted to lead church meetings or teach Sunday school. To Rita this loss of community was profound, and perhaps explains why, as her baby was getting worse, she did not seek medical care. Laitner claimed that Matthew’s continued illness was evidence of what, in the author’s words, was the parents’ “failure to fully embrace God and his majesty.” Another Christian Science practitioner, June Ahearn, was called in to pray. Her response to worried phone calls from the parents was: “It’s only been an hour and a half since you [last] called. He can’t possibly be in bad shape. It’s you and Doug with your fear that are holding this whole thing up!” Finally Ahearn allowed that the boy might have a broken bone as a cause of his severe neck pain; Christian Scientists are allowed to see doctors to set broken bones. Once Matthew was taken to the hospital, it became abundantly clear that he had meningitis, but his condition was so advanced that abscesses had developed in the brain. He died of what would have been a survivable illness had he been treated earlier.
With Matthew gone, members of Rita Swan’s church banded together, arguing that “children with meningitis die all the time . . . especially in hospitals”; Matthew’s death was evidence that medical science couldn’t do much better. Rita and Doug were ostracized for speaking out at what they saw as medical malpractice. Looking back, Rita Swan offered an explanation for her failure to treat her son, although she had a doctorate in English from Vanderbilt and her husband had one from the University of Vermont in mathematics. Both were well informed, but their faith had cut them off from lifesaving treatment: “Christian Science has all the features of a cult,” she explained. “We should never have allowed ourselves to be isolated like that.”