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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

Traditionally, minors are subject to their parents' will when it comes to their own healthcare treatment. While most parents make decisions consistent with societal values that they should obtain the best medical treatment available when their child is critically ill, cases exist where parents have refused medical treatment for their child because of their religious beliefs. Based on constitutional rights, parents have some leeway to make these treatment refusal decisions, and in no published case to date has a child asserted a treatment preference contrary to that of his or parents refusing treatment on religious grounds. Thus, courts have yet to deal with the scenario of a disagreement between parents and child over a religious-based decision to refuse medical treatment.

This Note examines the intersection of competing interests and individual rights involved in treatment decisions for a minor, where only one party-either the parents or the child-wants to refuse the treatment but the other party desires to obtain treatment. Part I provides a background on the development of current approaches that courts take when balancing parental rights, state interests, and the minor's rights. Parts II and III analyze the statutory and case law dealing with healthcare decision-making for minors and then examines the free-exercise rights of minors from a legal and psychological perspective. Examining these different doctrines together, this Note argues that parents should not be allowed to refuse treatment based on religious reasons for an adolescent child who desires treatment, and also that adolescents should not be granted the right to refuse treatment for religious reasons in life-threatening situations, when the parents are seeking treatment.

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