Professional Accountability

This is another in my series on contradictions in Christian Science practice, teachings, and culture. See others under the category of ‘Contradictions‘.

I visit a physical therapist on occasion, when some part of me is injured or sore. My physio has worked wonders on my chronic lower back issues, and helped me with a shoulder injury I sustained this past winter. My physio is also a certified acupuncturist, and acupuncture helped greatly in alleviating the pain of the shoulder injury. I also visit a walk-in clinic when I need medical attention (I still haven’t gotten around to connecting with a regular General Practitioner). Back in the day, when I had hair, I also visited a barber. I take my cat to a veterinarian for regular check-ups and vaccinations. I work with colleagues who are certified social workers–something I am considering becoming.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, there is one thing all of these professionals have in common: they are held accountable for their professional conduct and/or quality of work in some way. Sometimes it is by the government through licensure, sometimes it’s by a government-sanctioned professional society, or voluntarily through another professional society/organization. Whatever way that accountability comes, it is there–it acts as an assurance to the consumer that the professional they are employing is competent. In some cases, a consumer can research a particular individual professional on-line and find out if they’ve had complaints or sanctions regarding their work–such is the case where I live regarding medical doctors. These people are all held to certain basic professional standards. There are many professions that are sanctioned in some way, either by law, or voluntarily, and the practitioners thereof are held to certain basic professional standards. In this day and age, we as a society have come to expect this.

However, there is one group of professionals who are largely not held accountable by any professional society or licensing body for their conduct: Christian Science practitioners. In fact, the profession is barely regulated in any way at all, yet the Christian Science Church seeks to have their services reimbursable by private medical insurance in the United States and other countries. There is no way, except by word of mouth, to find out if the Christian Science practitioner one is considering hiring is in any way effective at what they do. There is no published record of healing success, no rating system, nothing. It’s a complete leap of faith when you pick up that phone or fire off that e-mail or text.

Already, Christian Science practitioner (as well as Christian Science nurse) fees are tax-deductable on at least federal income tax in the United States.1 Since deductions on state income taxes often mirror federal, it is likely that these expenses are also deductible at that level as well in many cases. Yes, indeed these fees can be deducted as a medical expense, and also, one can use pre-tax health savings account (HSA) money to pay for practitioners. This is due to the fact that anything that can be deducted as a medical expense on U.S. federal taxes can be paid for out of an HSA. Essentially, this could be viewed as a governmental subsidy. At the very least, it is viewed by some as sanction of Christian Science as an effective healing modality. Tax deductions are subsidies, just by another name and method. I wonder what happened to the separation of church and state.

Additionally, Christian Science practitioner fees are covered by the United States federal employee and military health insurance plans, many state employee plans, as well as private insurance. Now, I don’t completely begrudge any of this insurance coverage–or even necessarily the ability to deduct Christian Science practitioner fees on one’s taxes (everyone should be free to access whatever form of care they wish and deduct it, and insurance companies should be free to cover whatever crazy hare-brained schemes they deem fit to cover); but I wonder, since the Christian Science Church seeks to have its rather unique form of “alternative health care” as they like to call it, mimic in many ways the sanction that mainstream evidence-based care and other forms of care receive; why do they staunchly resist implementing or being subject to any sort of professional accountability? Yes, dear reader, this is a rhetorical question–I do not know the answer, but I have my theories.

Here is what it currently takes to get listed and to stay listed in The Christian Science Journal as a Christian Science practitioner (this is the only thing even remotely resembling professional accreditation):2

  1. Exclusive use of the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as well as other writings of Mary Baker Eddy as one’s exclusive textbooks in Christian Science (Manual of the Mother Church, Article IV, Section 1).
  2. No pursuit of any other profession or vocation–in other words, the healing practice of Christian Science is your only source of income–unless you’re working for The Mother Church (Manual of the Mother Church, Article XXV, Section 9).
  3. References from three patients who can attest to “complete” healings as a result of the applicant’s “prayerful treatment”2.
  4. The name of a “mentor” if the applicant’s Christian Science teacher is not available (in other words, if said teacher has succumbed to the belief of death).

That’s it! Just fill that out, sign it, and mail it in (or e-mail it if you’re keeping ‘abreast’ of the times). You will be interviewed by the person in charge of Journal listings, and once you’re in, you’re in. Short of running afoul of Church authorities, the only ways you’re out is by your own request, or when you suffer the ‘illusion’ of death.

It is also worth noting that one does not need to be listed in the Journal in order to be a Christian Science practitioner and to advertise one’s self as such (using the professional credentials ‘CS‘). One only needs to have taken Primary Class Instruction in Christian Science from an authorized Teacher of Christian Science. Thus, there are many people out there who advertise as Christian Science practitioners without even the mild accreditation afforded by listing in the Journal. They’re in the yellow pages, and all over the internet. Take your chances. Buyer beware!

No specific on-going professional requirements for continuing a Journal listing are specifically enumerated anywhere, but it is generally expected that a practitioner will attend their yearly Association meetings, and abide by the provisions of the Manual*, which does contain some provisions governing the conduct of Christian Scientists in general, and that obviously includes practitioners. However, for those who are accredited by listing in the Journal, there is no ongoing professional oversight or certification, such as there is for most other professions–healing or otherwise. There is no enforcement mechanism to ensure that they are following the few rules and requirements that are expected of them, and practitioners are human. They do break the rules.

My physiotherapist, and acupuncturists are both required to partake in on-going education and sometimes testing and re-certification and document and document that they actually are doing so. So are social workers, doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, and most other licensed or accredited professionals. Christian Science practitioners attend yearly Association meetings, and that’s well and good, but nobody is holding them accountable for that attendance; no regulating authority checks to ensure that they attend Association meetings. There is no official renewal or recertification process once one is listed in the Journal. Once you’re in, you’re in until you die, forget to pay your listing fee, withdraw of your own request, or somehow run afoul of the Church authorities in Boston and get de-listed and/or excommunicated–but that is extremely rare.

Also, there is, as far as I can tell, no enforced ethical code of conduct. I can attest personally that some Christian Science practitioners, and in my case the individual involved was also a Christian Science Teacher, are guilty of very gross acts of professional misconduct. How would you like to have someone angrily accuse you of betraying your father because you took him to the hospital in an attempt to save his life? There is absolutely no professional society or licensing body to which I could report this person’s conduct, and believe me, if there was, I would have done so a long time ago. This man violated every professional boundary I can think of, not to mention my own personal boundaries.

Christian Science practitioners also, in some cases, claim success in healing where there is none. I cite Liz Heywood’s case as a prime example. Heywood suffered from a bone infection as a teenager, which ultimately left her with a fused knee, rendering her unable to walk normally, and causing her a lot of pain and discomfort when she did walk. Ultimately, she had the leg amputated. The practitioner on the case often cited her case as one of a “successful healing”. If you don’t believe me, read her own words about that here. I doubt you will ever hear a medical professional call anyone ‘healed’ unless they truly are, and no medical professional in their right mind would pronounce Liz Heywood as healed.

So, it would seem that the Christian Science Church would like to have their cake and eat it too. They would like to have the rest of the world view and give sanction to their method of healing much the way other methods of health care are–including evidence-based medical science. However, they do not want the scrutiny or oversight that most other (including “alternative” health care) methods subject themselves to. I personally do not think that is right. If you want sanction and recognition, don’t shy away from accountability, and play by the same rules everyone else does. Or, are you afraid that your method of “healing” won’t stand up to outside scrutiny?

____________________

1 “Publication 502.Internal Revenue Service. 2012. Web. 26 Aug. 2013.

2 “Application for Advertising as a Christian Science Practitioner in The Christian Science Journal” (PDF file). The Christian Science Publishing Society. Web. 26 Aug. 2013.

* The Manual of the Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts is the governing document of the Christian Science Church, and its membership. See the Glossary of Terms for more information and a link to read it on-line.

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One thought on “Professional Accountability

  1. My father was in daily contact with a practitioner about our family situation for many years. One day, as a severely shy (traumatised by mental abuse and abandonment by our mother) teenager, I screwed up my courage and contacted the same practitioner for help with bad hay fever (you will realise that we had no access to medication or medical professionals – and even if I had, it would have meant I wouldn’t be mentally saved). From reading the CS literature I knew that if I would only reach out, I would come into a wonderful light, everything would be ok; body, soul and family horror. The practitioner’s response? ‘What do you expect ME to do about it?’ Shocked and desperate, I said ‘Pray.’ (whatever that is). Isn’t that what these folks advertise that they do?

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