Family Law Debate: Parental Rights in Making Medical Decisions

In some cases, parents do not have total control over the lives of their children. Certain parents who have specific religious or philosophical beliefs, for example, may find themselves up against the law, battling their parenting decisions in court. One family law issue that is often disputed in Florida and elsewhere, is when parents do not want their child subjected to chemotherapy treatments.

Currently, a state court is considering whether or not to overrule the decision of two Amish parents, who do not want their 10-year-old child who has leukemia to undergo chemotherapy treatments. State laws tend to provide parents a high level of autonomy when it comes to deciding the type of medical treatment their children will receive. However, when the decision could be a matter of life and death, states often have the power to intervene.

In this case, a children’s hospital in Ohio has pursued a legal action to have guardianship of a girl with leukemia awarded to a lawyer who also happens to be a registered nurse. If the state gives guardianship to the nurse, then that individual will have the power to decide which kind of medical treatment is most appropriate for the girl. The girl’s father has responded by saying that this is not how things should be.

Previously, a judge awarded the girl’s parents the right to make medical decisions for her. However, that decision is now being challenged. Hospital attorneys are saying that the focus needs to be on the girl and what is best for her medically. They say that this is a child’s rights issue and not a parent’s rights issue.

This debate is clearly a difficult one for all parties concerned. In some medical cases, chemotherapy treatment can be more damaging than the leukemia itself. Therefore, both medical experts and legal experts will likely be called to witness in the litigation of this case. Family law strategies can often be successfully employed on behalf of Florida parents whose parental rights are challenged. That said, each case is different and requires a thorough analysis to determine the strength and weaknesses of the parents’ position in the matter.