Why were Christian Scientists prosecuted for practicing medicine in the 19th Century?


Founder of Christian Science – Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910)

In the United States during the second half of the Nineteenth Century, states passed a series of laws that slowly established a medical licensing system.[1] Elite Regular, Homeopathic and Eclectic worked to together to eliminate medical practices that they found ridiculous. After medical licensing boards were established, they began to target marginalized medical practitioners for illegally practicing medicine. Interestingly, one of the groups targeted by these boards were Christian Scientists even though they did not practice medicine in the traditional sense. Instead they used religion and metaphysics to fight illness. While they did not act like doctors, they often accepted money from the people that they were treating. By the end of the 19th Century, medical licensing boards began were aggressively filing criminal actions against Christian Scientists.

Christian Science was described by Mary Baker Eddy as a “medicoreligious hybrid” that combined physical well-being with religious beliefs. In 1875, Eddy published a book titled Science and Health. This widely read text started the Christian Science movement and created a unique example of faith healing in the United States. While Christian Science initially was perceived as simply another type of faith healing, over time it acquired notoriety and acclaim unusual for spiritual healing. During the 1880s and 1890s, the movement picked up steam and became a legitimate challenger to scientific medicine. By the 1890s, state courts and legislatures debated whether Christian Scientists practiced medicine under state licensing laws.[2]

Despite widely exaggerated claims by members of the medical press that there were more than one million Christian Scientists practicing medicine in the United States in 1890s, it was likely that there were no more than fifty thousand Christian Scientists in the entire country. Additionally, few of these adherents worked as faith healers. Regulars, Homeopaths, and Eclectics were not overrun by a horde army of faith healers despite their repeated assertions to the contrary. Christian Science was a small religious community, but physicians were outraged by the religious beliefs espoused by Mary Baker Eddy and her adherents.[3]

Read the rest of the article at DailyHistory.org 

Categories: History of Medicine, Legal History, United States History

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