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The Matter of Daniel Hauser: Parents' Right to Refuse Medical Treatment for their Kids

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. | Last updated on

When a child is sick, many parents probably don't think twice before getting them some medicine or taking them to the doctor, if necessary. But what if a doctor tells a parent something they don't think is true, or advises a course of action that the parents simply do not wish to take? Aren't they free to make a decision for their child on their own? Not necessarily, according to a Minnesota court. The AP reports that, after 13-year-old Daniel Hauser was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, he and his parents Colleen and Anthony Hauser decided, based on their religious beliefs, that "alternative medicines" would be a better way to go than chemo (they did give one round of chemo a shot).

However, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found Daniel Hauser was "medically neglected" and consequently was in need of child protective services. This essentially ended up taking the medical decision out of Colleen and Anthony Hausers' hands, although they were apparently allowed to keep custody of their child. So what are parents' rights with regards to getting, choosing, and/or refusing treatment for their kids?

These cases are very difficult and conflicting at the legal level because of the variety of issues and rights that can come into conflict. The Minnesota case, for example, was essentially a collision-filled intersection of religious freedoms, parental rights, children's rights, and governmental interests. Parents do have a fundamental constitutionally protected right not to have the state interfere with decisions they make regarding the upbringing of their children, but this does have its limits. For example, parents are not free to abuse their children, even if they think what they are doing is just discipline and upbringing. When a state wants to infringe on parents' rights they must show a compelling interest to justify it. For example, with child abuse and discipline, states are found to have a compelling interest in protecting the safety and well-being of their citizen children (mandatory education would be another example).

Daniel Hauser's case in Minnesota was decided along those lines. The Minnesota court found that, under the specific circumstances, the state had shown a compelling interest in "the life and welfare of Daniel" sufficient to overcome all of the strong religious and familial constitutional rights of both Daniel and his parents. Daniel's court-appointed attorney, Philip Elbert, disagreed and said the decision was "unfortunate", "a blow to families," and "marginalize[d] the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children's medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us." On the other hand, past cases like that of Madeline Neumann have shown that some parental decisions can sometimes bring dire consequences, too.

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