Parental Rights and Medical Decisions

An Amish family in Ohio who disagrees with a doctor and hospital about the treatment of their daughter, who has cancer, has been sued by the hospital. The hospital is asking the courts to have “limited guardianship of the girl given to an attorney who’s also a registered nurse” in order to force the continuation of chemo therapy.

The Washington Post noted, “A judge in Medina County in northeast Ohio ruled in July that Sarah’s parents had the right to make medical decisions for her. But an appeals court on Wednesday said the judge failed to consider whether appointing a guardian would be in the girl’s best interest. The appeals court ordered the judge to reconsider his decision.”

The Medina Gazette reported the judge ruled in July that guardianship can be established only if parents are deemed unfit.

“The court cannot deprive these parents of their right to make medical decisions for their daughter because there is not a scintilla of evidence showing the parents are unfit,” Lohn wrote.

“There was no basis in law and no basis in fact to file this action.”

He said the girl’s parents were “caring, attentive, protective, and concerned.”

The judge has ruled again for the parents. As USA Today explained, “Judge John Lohn, in Medina County, said in his ruling Tuesday that not allowing the parents to make medical decisions for their daughter would take away their rights. He also said there is no guarantee that chemotherapy would be successful.

“’They are good parents,’” he said. “They understand completely the grave situation their daughter is in and the consequences of their choice to refuse chemotherapy for Sarah at this time.’”

This is a judge for whom I would campaign. He clearly understands the issue of parental rights and that good parents should have the right to make medical decisions for their children—even end-of-life decisions. He is also interpreting the law rather than seeking to impose his values from the bench. We actually see the reverse scenario in many courts today.

We opposed SB 303 in the last legislative session on the basis of supporting the parental rights of fit parents. The bill would have allowed doctors to place “Do Not Attempt to Resuscitate” (DNAR) orders in the medical file of a child without the permission and against the wishes of the parent. The bill also would shield from any liability the doctors doing so. One legislator even told us that doctors were better qualified than parents to make these kinds of end-of-life decisions because parents were too “emotionally involved.”

This issue is just another example of the fact that in many areas the public today does not value the parental right of fit parents to make decisions for their children. Doctors and courts are often too willing to override the rights of parents in such situations, and we must continue to work to change that.