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As between a parent and the state, the state does not have an interest of sufficient magnitude outweighing a parent's religious beliefs, which are the basis of the parents' objection to the challenged medical treatment, when the child's life is not immediately imperiled by his physical condition. A court's inquiry does not end at that point, however, since the child may be sufficiently mature that his wishes should be ascertained. It would be most anomalous to ignore the minor in this situation when courts consider the preference of an intelligent child of sufficient maturity in determining custody and have held that a child can waive constitutional rights and receive a life sentence. Indeed, minors can now bring a personal injury action in Pennsylvania against their parents.
Respondent mother had a son who suffered from paralytic scoliosis, which prevented him from standing or walking. Respondent refused to give consent to the physician-advised surgery on the grounds that the proposed spinal fusion procedure required her son to receive blood transfusions, to which respondent was religiously opposed. Consequently, petitioner Director of the State Hospital for Crippled Children at Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, sought a declaration that the boy was a neglected child under Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 11, § 243 et seq., which required the appointment of a guardian who would give consent to the operation. The trial court dismissed the petition, but the superior court reversed. Respondent mother challenged the decision.
Under the circumstances, could the State interfere with the respondent mother’s control over her child, when such intrusion conflicted with the mother’s religious beliefs?
On review, the Court reversed, noting that there was no evidence that the boy's life was in any danger that required immediate surgery. The Court accordingly found that state's parens patriae interest was not sufficient to outweigh respondent's religious beliefs and rights under U.S. Const. amend. I. However, the Court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing to allow the boy an opportunity to be heard, noting that the ultimate question was whether respondent's religious beliefs were paramount to the possible adverse wishes of her son.