You can refuse the right to medical treatment — but what about your kids?

December 18, 2018 - 3:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — When do people have the legal right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment because of religious or other beliefs? 

It almost seems like the plot of a movie — a 13-year-old boy, in remission from a rare form of leukemia, is taken from his mother and carried away from him home at 3 a.m. But it happened to a Long Island boy, not by criminals, but by the hospital where he was supposed to receive chemotherapy.

The boy's mother was refusing the treatment and attempted to take him to Florida to avoid what she believed was the hospital's misdiagnosis and toxic treatment. 

Does a parent have a right to make decisions about his or her child's health? The courts have almost unanimously held that adults have the right to refuse medical treatment, even in cases where medical treatment would be lifesaving, either because of religious or other beliefs. 

But courts have held that when medical professionals believe the treatment of a child will be the difference between life or death, the 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."