Court Rules In Favor of Children's Health, While State Laws Struggle to Do Their Part
Feb 08, 2011
By Christine Vara
Last week I read several articles that addressed children’s health from different and interesting perspectives.
The concerns raised by the first article are particularly troubling. Parents, failing to seek medical attention for their two year old son, were convicted of involuntary man slaughter when the child died from bacterial pneumonia. According to various reports, it was their belief – and that of their church- that seeking medical care was a sin and a lack of faith in God. Rather than be shunned for seeing a doctor, the couple prayed over their son, later telling homicide detectives “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end, the devil won.”
Though the couple was spared from going to prison during the recent sentencing, they did receive 10 years of probation. Additionally, despite their religious beliefs, the court is requiring that they bring their seven surviving children to see a “qualified medical practitioner” for regular medical exams until they turn 18.
Though this case doesn’t specifically address vaccinations, the court ruling is notable. Even the couple’s attorney declared that the sentencing sent a clear message that “religious freedom is trumped by the safety of children”. However, some have suggested that the sentencing doesn’t do enough in that it never addresses the requirement for following a physician’s recommendations, nor does it require that the children be vaccinated.
This was an interesting case when compared to a custody hearing in Florida. While the parents of this particular child were never married, their differing religious beliefs resulted in a disagreement over the child’s health care.
The mother, a chiropractor and proponent of holistic medicine, stated that her religious views are based on the belief that God has provided the human body with an innate immune system that enables the body to heal itself. She believes that anything introduced into the body to prevent disease or treat illness is against the will of God, and therefore specifically opposes vaccinations. However, the father wants his child to receive traditional medical care, including well baby exams, blood draws, urinalysis, and vaccinations. After three different hearings, in which multiple experts testified in regards to the effectiveness of vaccinations, the court ruled in favor of the father who is to receive custody of the child.
One legal blog responded to the ruling by saying that this was good news for those that favor “rational, science-based medicine”. The article explains,
“When making custody decisions, a court will base its decision entirely on what’s in the best interests of the child. Obviously, there are practically an infinite number of factors that can be considered when making this determination. One of the big ones, however, is which parent can be expected to make sound decisions regarding the child’s physical health.”
In evaluating these court rulings, it appears that the law is exercising it’s power to protect the health of these children. By ensuring medical intervention – even if it is in direct conflict to a parent’s religious beliefs – the court is acting in the best interests of the child.
However, while the legal system is making these rulings, various state legislatures are battling to create laws of their own.
Just last week, the state of NJ was seeking to pass legislation that would tighten recently enacted regulations that have inadvertently loosened immunization requirements for students.
In Oregon, amidst an increasing use of religious vaccine exemptions, the state’s public health department announced that they will begin to collect more detailed information regarding the use of vaccination exemptions. Rather than simply collect the total the number of families who have requested exemptions, the plan is to track which vaccines are being refused. Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator at the Oregon Immunization Program and Public Heath, explains that although specific family names will not be included, this data will help prepare for possible disease outbreaks, provide insight into parental concerns and develop educational materials to address those concerns.
The state of Virginia has also been struggling with a debate over the HPV vaccine mandate for girls in the 6th grade. Oddly, Virginia was one of the first to mandate the HPV vaccine for girls, but now, just four years after the HPV vaccine mandate was overwhelmingly approved by the state House, there is a strong rejection of the requirement. The Washington Post reports that this could be a sign of public uneasiness with the vaccination and of the resonance of arguments about government overreach in a state with an active tea party movement. Whatever the political circumstances may be, the health of the state’s women remain in the hands of the legislature.
Even in Wyoming, the state senate has moved to defeat a bill that would have required children to be vaccinated against meningitis. Sadly, the bill did not pass, largely due to the $335,000 annual cost to administer the shot, which the state lawmakers don’t feel they can afford.
Although Wyoming already offers the meningitis vaccine, the state’s meningitis vaccination rates are considerably lower than the rates for mandatory vaccines. Unfortunately, if a vaccine is not mandated by the state, many people aren’t aware that they can or should be immunized, leaving many children unvaccinated and vulnerable against this serious and often debilitating disease.
Interestingly enough, students at Roosevelt High School in Casper wrote the legislation after learning about a college student who died in 2007 after contracting the disease in Colorado. While their interest in the vaccine is critical, their opinions alone are not enough to change the legislation.
From what we have seen in the news last week, it appears that various states are examining their immunization practices and debating the issues. As with any other legislation, the final results will not be determined solely on the basis of need, but will most certainly be influenced by politics and budget cuts.
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