When Iowa can decide your child's medical treatment - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

When Iowa can decide your child's medical treatment

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Dubuque (KWWL) -- When it comes to your health and beliefs, do you know when your rights end, and when the state can step in? That's what medical ethicists have been debating since the Minnesota court ordered 13-year-old Daniel Hauser to undergo chemotherapy.

The Hausers follow a religion of Native American origin. The Utah-based faith began in 2003 and has about 4,000 followers. The mission is to "provide a safety net for natural healers by bringing the sacred back into natural healing".

Daniel, diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, fled with his mother last week to pursue "natural medicine". Now back home, the teen will begin chemotherapy Thursday.

Experts who work with hospitals say these types of cases involving refusal of treatment are happening more frequently, though most commonly with adults.

"With advance directives, with patient rights, people are freer to refuse medical treatment than 50 years ago, 30 years ago," Finley Hospital Ethics Committee Chair and Chaplain Rev. David Pacholke said.

In 1990, the US Supreme Court ruled the right to refuse medical treatment, including food and water, is protected by the Constitution.

"Many times people will refuse a treatment at the bedside, and it's done, and there's no ethical component to it because they have that right and that privelege," Pacholke said.

If patients can't make decisions themselves, often a designated power of attorney will decide. If there is disagreement with medical professionals or family Pacholke said, "They can go to court to try and get it overturned, but we mostly believe patient rights and that they have the right to refuse any treatment.

For children, legally that is people under 18, it's different, and more complicated.

"Ultimately parents do have the final say; however, there is something called the parens patriae power of the state whereby the state can trump a decision made by the parents if it's reasonable that the parents are not acting in the child's best interest," Loras College Philosophy Professor and Director of the Bioethics Center Dr. Janine Idziak said.

It's precendence set by a case involving Jehovah's Witnesses; a religious group that does not take blood transfusions.

"It's recognized legally that an adult Jehovah's Witness can refuse a blood transfustion even if that may result in his or her death; however, an adult Jehovah's Witness does not have that same power to make that decision on behalf of his or her child."

Using the ethical guidance of burdens versus benefits -- experts say the state's decision in Minnesota is sound.

"In this case, it's argued that the benefits of him undergoing the chemotherapy in terms of his long range survival clearly outweigh the temporary discomfort of the treatment," Idziak said.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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