The right of Christian Science parents to rely on prayer, rather than medicine, for the treatment of their children, will be central to the defense of David and Ginger Twitchell when their manslaughter trial begins in a Boston court later this year. The Twitchells entered a plea of not guilty Monday to unlawful conduct in connection with the death of their 2-year-old son in April l986. They had relied wholly on Christian Science care for their child during his brief illness.
A major point of contention is whether the Twitchells are in violation of a state child neglect and abuse law that requires medical treatment for children. Defense lawyers claim that the entire prosecution is improper because of a l971 exemption in this statute which says that ``a child shall not be deemed to be neglected or lack proper physical care for the sole reason that he is being provided remedial treatment by spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church.''
Church officials point out that this provision is not a way to allow Christian Scientists to circumvent the law, but rather an acknowledgment that healing through prayer is a legitimate alternative to medicine. They add that Christian Science has a successful record of more than a century of healings, with verifications for all of those which appear in church publications.
This case has already generated much publicity. Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan has sought, and received, a temporary gag order to prevent all parties from discussing it with the media. The district attorney claimed that some of the comments being made to the press by the defendants' lawyer, Rikki Klieman - regarding the legality of the statute under which the Twitchells are being prosecuted - could ``poison the pool of prospective jurors.''
Miss Klieman, who opposes the gag order, stressed that her remarks were meant to clarify the broader issue - ``First Amendment rights of freedom of religion versus the right of the state to protect children.''
Judge Sandra Hamlin will hold a hearing on the gag order issue on Thursday to assess whether this publicity ban should be made permanent.
Church spokesman Nathan Talbot has issued a statement saying: ``No one would think of prosecuting grief-stricken parents in the hundreds of sad instances where children have died under conventional medicine.''