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Parental Rights and Children’s Medical Treatments

written by: Nicky LaMarco • edited by: Lisa Lambson • updated: 8/16/2011

When treating minors for serious or even minor illness, they are considered incompetent when it comes to deciding upon their own healthcare options.

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    Refusing Care

    There are various cases of parents refusing care for their children. The refusal of certain types of treatments is often tied to religious beliefs or their preference of alternative therapies that they feel will better treat their child. When a physician recommends a specific treatment and the parent does not follow the treatment routine, the state may intervene on behalf of the child.

    When a parent’s rights are challenged, the state often sites that parent’s are refusing to act in the best interest of the child by denying them care. When parents strongly believe that they are acting in the best interest of their child, it is difficult to discern who is doing the most to protect or harm the child. Although the parent cites the reason for refusing care as religious, the state often intervenes because a minor is often far too young to know the difference between the recommended treatment and the breach of any religious beliefs. Therefore the state sees the act as imposing beliefs upon a child that they are too young to understand.

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    Issues of Public Health

    After a certain age, children are required to have vaccines, particularly when they will be exposed to other children in public spaces. Failing to vaccinate a child due to religious beliefs or other health concerns may not ever harm the child, however it may seriously harm other children with whom the unvaccinated child comes in contact. Issues of public health often dictate certain types of medical treatment regardless of a parent’s rights.

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    Parental Rights

    Parents do have rights when it comes to the medical treatment of children. They have a right to consult multiple physicians, they have the right to consul physicians about the various options available for their children and they do have the right to seek out alternative therapies that may assist in bringing their child back to health. While parents do have a right, it is not open-ended without consequences. Refusing a specific treatment that may easily cure a child could compromise the child’s life and the state would hold the parent responsible for the negligence. The cases of parents refusing medical care for their children are often played out in dramatic circumstances. Parents outright refuse treatment, “kidnap" their child, miss scheduled treatments and physicians feel that they have to intervene for the sake of the child.

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    Who Decides?

    Until a precedent is set that overturns most court decisions, it is safe to assume that if a child is refused a necessary treatment that could compromise his or her life, the state will intervene. The state considers a parent negligent in most cases and may even take custody of the child to administer the physician recommended treatments.

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