Thursday, September 14, 2006

Case Law Development: US District Court Upholds Required Newborn Medical Screening Tests Against "Right to Parent" Constitutional Challenge

The United States District Court for the District of Nebraska addressed an issue of the clash between parental religious views and protection of children's health in a case they framed in this way:

Loving parents want to delay the state-mandated testing of their newly born infants for metabolic diseases because of their sincere religious beliefs and because of their equally sincere and related concern for the health of their children. Just as committed to the well-being of newborns, the State of Nebraska refuses to accommodate the family. Nebraska fervently believes that such an accommodation would harm children.

The parents, who followed teachings of Scientology requiring a "silent birth" - insulating a child from pain for the first seven days - sought to delay having their newborn's blood drawn to conduct tests for metabolic disorders.  Nebraska is one of the few states that do not allow an exemption for testing based upon religious grounds.  While the district court judge granted a TRO that provided the couple the relief they requested, the possibility of future families facing the same issue led the court to consider the constitutional challenges to the Nebraska statute requiring newborn testing.

The plaintiffs challenged the testing on 1st, 4th and 14th amendment grounds.  The court explored fully the plaintiff's argument that, when first amendment claims are coupled with 14th amendment substantive due process claims, the court should apply a strict scrutiny standard.  The court rejected that reasoning  and applied a rational basis test, concluding that the statute was rationally related to the legitimate government interest in protecting the health of children. 

The court rejected the plaintiff's 14th amendment claim that the statute interfered with their fundamental right to marry in one paragraph, concluding:

the precedents of the Supreme Court recognize that the right of a parent to parent and the right of a child to safety are of equal value; that "strict scrutiny" does not apply; and that the statute is rationally related to the legitimate governmental objective of protecting children from death or serious injury.

Spiering v. Heineman, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65046 (D. Neb. Sept. 12, 2006)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2006/09/case_law_develo_3.html

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