Parens Patriae and Parental Rights: When Should the State Override Parental Medical Decisions?
Alfie Evans was a terminally ill British child whose parents, clinging to hope, were desperately trying to save his life. Hospital authorities disagreed and petitioned the court to enjoin the parents from removing him and taking him elsewhere for treatment. The court stepped in and compelled the hospital to discontinue life support and claimed that further treatment was not in the child’s best interest. This note discusses the heartbreaking stories of Alfie and two other children whose parents’ medical decisions on their behalf were overridden by the court. It argues that courts should never decide that death is in a child’s best interest and compel parents to withdraw life support from their children. Such a decision is outside the scope of the judiciary. Furthermore, it argues that even in those instances when the court may or must intervene, a new framework is necessary because the current framework used by the court to determine the best interest of the child ignores fundamental realities of child psychology. Too often, as a result of the court’s mistaken framework, the court illegitimately trespasses into the parental domain. By adopting a new framework, the court will intervene only when actual abuse or neglect is suspected. In all other cases, judicial restraint will be practiced and the court will show greater deference to the parents’ wishes.
Elchanan G. Stern,
Parens Patriae and Parental Rights: When Should the State Override Parental Medical Decisions?,
33 J.L. & Health
available at https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/jlh/vol33/iss1/8
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