Religious Objections to Medical Care
This is one of the most important areas of change in the law governing consent to medical care for minors. Where the religious beliefs of the parents once were paramount, the child’s right to life and health now takes precedence over the parents’ right to freedom of religion. An adult Jehovah’s Witness, for instance, may have the right to refuse transfusion, even if it means certain death. That same person does not have the right to refuse transfusion for a child who will likely die. If parents refuse necessary care for a child, the physician or hospital administrator should immediately seek a court order for the care. If the care is needed urgently and cannot await the court order, then the physician should proceed with the care regardless of the parents’ objections. The court order should be sought at the same time. The justification for this is the same as the emergency exception to consent. It is reasonable to assume that the court will uphold the child’s right to life and health and grant the order for care. If the court cannot be contacted in time, the physician should go ahead with the care just as if it were the parents who are unavailable. [Holder AR. Minors’ rights to consent to medical care. JAMA. 1987;257:3400–3402.]