In November 2002, my mother, who had been a Christian Scientist for over forty years, experienced severe chest pains. She visited a hospital, where a heart attack was diagnosed.
She made the decision not to accept medical treatment. Instead, she went to Whitehaven, Christian Science Home, near Bath, England, UK. My brother and I took her there. When we visited two days later, she was suffering a heart attack that was far more severe than the first. The home had not contacted us. She was alone in her room. It was winter, yet the window was open and the room was cold. We left the room for around ten minutes to discuss what should be done. When we returned, none of the staff was sitting with her, even though they knew we had left. When we told her we wanted her to go to hospital she immediately agreed.
In hospital, she died after ten days. Following her death I wrote to Whitehaven to inform them. Some weeks later we received a donation request from them. Having been brought up in Christian Science, I knew very well the level of denial of illness and death involved. Nevertheless, the lack of sensitivity towards our feelings came as a shock.
I also felt that, although she had decided to go to the home, that someone should have stayed with her when she was ill, even to provide comfort. It was not acceptable to use the belief that illness is not real as a pretext to do nothing. The room temperature and her wellbeing should have been monitored to ensure that the window was not left open for too long, and was not excessively cold.
I complained to the regulating authority, which at first refused to investigate. Following my insistence that an investigation was their legal obligation, an enquiry began. The initial findings were not to my satisfaction. The investigating officer did not state that the home should have done more. It took more than two years and more than a hundred letters to achieve a satisfactory outcome. This was a statement that the home should have done more during the course of my mother's illness.
At the time, new laws were being introduced relating to the regulation and running of nursing homes. It had been proposed that Christian Science Homes would have a complete exemption, as they were non-medical homes. After pointing out that all other nursing and care homes were covered under the new act, whether or not they were providing medical care, Christian Science homes were included and a set of care standards developed.
A recurring theme of the official response was that I should show greater religious tolerance. This view was frustrating, as I did not think it was a reason to permit sub-standard care. Neither was this easy to accept when I had also experienced avoidable pain as a child due to medical neglect. This was not something I felt should be tolerated, whether an organisation was religious or secular. The homes were set up to look after vulnerable, mainly older people. They could not avoid their duty to provide consistent, properly managed and attentive care, whether or not medical treatment was a part of that care.
A few years later the home was closed down and the building was sold. There is now another Christian Science home in Chepstow, Wales, UK, some thirty miles from the former Whitehaven.