Medical Procedures and Freedom of Religion

Court rules that child must undergo medical procedure in violation of parents’ religious beliefs.

Church Law and Tax 1992-01-01 Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered an 8-year-old girl suffering from leukemia to receive blood transfusions despite her parents’ claim that such procedures violated their religious beliefs. The parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion that prohibits blood transfusions. A doctor testified that the girl faced certain death without the transfusion. A trial judge ordered the girl to receive transfusions and such other medical treatment as may be required. The judge based his ruling on the following factors: (1) the child’s age; (2) the risk to the child’s life if treatment was not begun; and (3) the substantial chance of a cure and a normal life if the child received treatment. The parents appealed, and the supreme judicial court agreed with the trial judge. It observed: “The state has three interests in having a dangerously sick child receive medical treatment over her parents’ religious objections. First, the state has an interest in protecting the welfare of children within its borders. Second, the state has an interest in the preservation of life, especially when the affliction is curable. Finally, the medical profession is trained to preserve life, and to care for those under its control. The state has an interest in maintaining the ethical integrity of the medical profession.” These interests outweighed the parents’ religious rights, concluded the court. Matter of McCauley, 565 N.E.2d 411 (Mass. 1991).

See Also: The Right to Refuse Medical Treatment

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