The Legal Right To Refuse Life-Saving Treatment
By Amy E. Feldman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When do people have the legal right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment on religious grounds?
After a two-year-old boy died of untreated pneumonia in 2009, his parents – devoted faith healers – told the court that they would not let another child go without medical intervention if necessary. But after the death of another one of their children under similar circumstances recently, the parents were charged with third-degree murder and are being held without bail.
But if they have an earnest religious belief against medical treatment, don’t they have the legal right to practice their religion?
The courts have almost unanimously held that adults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists have a right to worship as they please and have the right to refuse medical treatment, even in cases where medical treatment would be lifesaving. But Courts have held that parents’ right to religious practice ends where somebody else’s right begins. So parents’ religious right to refuse treatment does not extend to their children.
As one court deciding a similar case said “Their child is a human being in his own right with a soul and body of his own. He has rights of his own – the right to grow up and live.”