Sep 24, 1989


Jon Van
September 24, 1989

Even though Christian Scientists abstain from tobacco and alcohol, they apparently die younger than the rest of the population, perhaps because they also shun most therapies offered by modern medicine, a new study has found.

The higher death rate among Christian Scientists was reported by a scientist on the faculty of Emporia State University, William Franklin Simpson, who compared longevity over the last 50 years of graduates from a Christian Science college with that of people attending a public university.

Although abstinence from tobacco and alcohol has been proven to extend life, graduates of Principia College in Elsah, Ill., a Christian Science school, didn`t live as long as liberal arts graduates of the University of Kansas in Lawrence who completed school at the same time, Simpson found.

The founder of the Christian Science faith, Mary Baker Eddy, taught that illness is just a product of the mind, and that all drugs do is tap into human faith and belief. Eddy urged members of her church to eschew most medical therapies and to instead treat illness and affliction with prayer alone.

Several states exempt from child-abuse laws those Christian Science parents who withhold medical care from their offspring. Medicare and some health insurance funds pay for Christian Science prayer care just as they do for orthodox medicine, Simpson noted in his report, which was being published in Friday`s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Studies of Christian Scientists and their health are rare because their church is secretive.

Simpson, a Principia alumnus, based his findings upon information taken from the Principia Alumni Directory, which regularly lists graduates of the college and provides obituaries when alumni die. Adherence to Christian Science beliefs is virtually a requirement for admission to Principia, Simpson said, and he assumed for purposes of the study that most of the graduates continued in that faith after graduation.

In analyzing death records of 5,558 people who graduated from Principia between 1934 and 1983 and those of 29,858 who graduated from the University of Kansas during the same period, Simpson found that the death rate among Principia graduates from cancer was double the national average and that 6 percent of the overall deaths of Principia graduates were due to causes generally regarded as preventable by orthodox medicine.

''If Christian Science healing methods work as well as medical healing methods, one would expect to see Christian Scientists live as long as non-Christian Scientists,'' Simpson concluded. ''However, this study has shown that this is not the case.

''Christian Scientists (at least people who claimed to be Christian Scientists at the time they were students at Principia College) have a lower life expectancy than a control group of students from the University of Kansas.''