LiveScience.com ran a story last week about a Nebraskan couple who did not want any health screenings for their newborn. The couple was appealing mandatory testing laws that exist in every state, claiming that it was a violation of their freedom of religion. The couple practices Scientology. The mandatory health screening consists of nothing more than drawing blood from the baby’s foot and then testing it for rare health diseases that can be cured. Some of these diseases can lead to brain damage and even early death.
The parent intentions are honorable. They claim that their religous practices prohibit such testing. However, the religous textbook cited in the article does not state in bold letters. “Do not use this test.” If it did, then maybe, just maybe this rule violates their freedom of religion. Their cited text makes only vague references to medicine and they have extrapolated their own interpretation to determine that test their child would be in violation of their tenets. However, it is not convincing to me that anyone – the baby in question for example – would consciously choose retardation or death and scientology over good health and some other subsequently remaining belief system. The real question in this case is whether or not parents can control the religion that their children will practice, by way of risking said child’s health at birth.
How do we answer such a question? Perhaps, just as this family is appealing their claim under the constitution, and the first amendment from the bill of rights, the framer’s can shed some light on this topic. The Declaration of Independence, the founding document of this nation, declares that all men have certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These certain unalienable rights apply today, and were the founding concept of this nation. They unquestionably mean that everyone has a choice in their own path. We must consider these rights as applying to an infant child, and further, assume that they are the three things that would be most important to this child, just as they’re the most important rights upon which this country was founded. It seems evident that good health would fall under these rights. However, this is a difficult question which will be debated for some time.
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John R. Mininno, Esq. is a New Jersey and Pennsylvania trial lawyer representing clients in medical malpractice, defective products and other serious injury claims. He also writes about issues concerning patient safety. His offices are in Collingswood, NJ and Philadelphia, PA.