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Baumgartner v. First Church of Christ

OPINION FILED MARCH 4, 1986.

MARY BAUMGARTNER, EX'R OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN BAUMGARTNER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE FIRST CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. William R. Quinlan, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE BUCKLEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Mary Baumgartner, as executor of the estate of John Baumgartner, deceased, brought an action for wrongful death against the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Mother Church), Ruth L. Tanner, and the Northern Trust Company, as executor of the estate of Paul A. Erickson, deceased. Plaintiff's action arises out of Christian Science treatment rendered to decedent by Tanner and Erickson. Defendants filed a motion to strike and dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 2-619). The motion was granted and plaintiff appeals. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

• 1 Initially, we observe that Christian Science is a widely known religion and courts will take judicial notice of its general teachings. (Northern Trust Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (7th Cir. 1940), 116 F.2d 96, 98.) Its basic premise, as plaintiff acknowledges in her pleading, is that physical disease can be healed by spiritual means alone. As stated in an article on Christian Science from the Encyclopedia Britannica (4 Encyclopedia Britannica Macropaedia 562-65 (15th ed 1984)):

"Christian Science is a religious denomination founded in the United States in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), author of the book that contains the definitive statement of its teaching, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. About one-third of its nearly 3,000 congregations are located in 56 countries outside the United States, with membership concentrated in areas with strong Protestant traditions. It is widely known for its practice of spiritual healing, an emphasis best understood in relation to its historical background and teaching.

* * *

The cure of disease through prayer is seen as a necessary element in a full redemption from the flesh. Church historian Karl Holl summarizes the concept of treatment, or prayer, in Christian Science as `a silent yielding of self to God, an ever closer relationship to God, until His omnipresence and love are felt effectively by man,' and he distinguishes this decisively from willpower or mental suggestion."

We further note that the present appeal is before this court on a motion to dismiss which admits all well-pleaded facts in plaintiff's complaint. (Magana v. Elie (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 1028, 439 N.E.2d 1319.) Consequently, in reviewing the arguments on appeal, the following factual allegations contained in plaintiff's complaint are admitted as true.

Plaintiff's fourth amended complaint alleged that on October 13, 1974, the decedent, plaintiff's husband, contracted acute prostatitis. The illness manifested itself through severe pain in the groin area and the inability to urinate. Decedent immediately contacted Paul Erickson and advised him of his illness. Decedent requested that Erickson provide him with Christian Science treatment. Erickson, a Christian Science practitioner, had provided decedent with Christian Science healing on several prior occasions. He was also plaintiff's teacher and advisor on Christian Science. Erickson had been instructed by the Mother Church in the methods of Christian Science healing and was listed in The Christian Science Journal, a publication of the organization. By listing practitioners in the journal, the Mother Church certifies their training and competence.

Erickson came to decedent's home shortly after being contacted and administered hot baths and Christian Science treatment. Erickson also "massaged and manipulated" decedent's prostate gland. For the next several days, decedent's condition remained unchanged. Erickson therefore contacted defendant Ruth Tanner and directed her to go to decedent's home to assist in rendering Christian Science healing. Tanner was a Christian Science nurse certified by the Department of Care of the Mother Church and was also listed in its journal. Tanner proceeded to provide Christian Science treatment to decedent. Erickson called daily to check on decedent's condition and he visited frequently to provide healing.

Decedent's condition began to deteriorate. Plaintiff alleges that decedent decided he wanted medical treatment for his illness and that he no longer wished to be treated by Tanner and Erickson. She further alleges that when Erickson was advised of this request, he told decedent that he would die if a medical doctor was called and assured decedent that he was being cured by Christian Science healing. Decedent and plaintiff did not call in a medical doctor and instead continued with the Christian Science healing provided by Tanner and Erickson. Decedent's condition further deteriorated, and he died on October 23, 1974, 10 days after he became ill.

At the time of his death, decedent had been a wealthy inventor and industrialist. He was survived by plaintiff and his two minor children. The complaint alleges that prior to his death, decedent changed his will at the insistence of Erickson and made the Mother Church a residual beneficiary of approximately one-half of his multi-million-dollar estate.

Plaintiff thereafter initiated a wrongful death action against the Mother Church, Tanner, and Erickson, who is now deceased. The pleading before this court is plaintiff's fourth amended complaint which contains five counts. Count I alleges ordinary negligence, count II alleges intentional/reckless misconduct, count III seeks recovery for medical malpractice and count IV sets forth a Christian Science malpractice claim. Count V is directed only against the Mother Church for a constructive trust. The trial court dismissed the entire fourth amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The dismissal was based on first amendment grounds. On appeal, plaintiff challenges the dismissal of all five counts. The issues raised on appeal are matters of first impression in this State.

I

• 2 We first address the propriety of the trial court's dismissal of the count in plaintiff's complaint seeking recovery for medical malpractice. This claim is based on the premise that Erickson and Tanner were under a legal duty to comply with the standards of diagnosis and care that are imposed upon members of the medical profession even though they had been retained by decedent for Christian Science treatment. We find no merit to plaintiff's claim. Legislative and judicial distinctions between medical and spiritual treatment belie the existence of any such duty.

Our State legislature recognized the fundamental difference between spiritual treatment of human ailments and medical treatment when it enacted the Medical Practice Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 11, par. 4474.) This act exempts religious treatment from licensing, testing and other regulation. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111, par. 4474.) Specifically, section 37 (par. 4474) provides that the Act does not apply to "persons treating human ailments by prayer or spiritual means as an exercise or enjoyment of religious freedom." Similarly, nurses who provide "care of the sick where treatment is by prayer or spiritual means" are expressly exempt from the requirement that all nurses be licensed. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 111, par. 3402.) It follows that persons in these categories, exempt as a ...


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