Parental religious rights must give way to child’s welfare |

Parental religious rights must give way to child’s welfare

by Geoff Dornan

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a seriously ill child’s medical needs supersede the religious beliefs of his parents.

The unidentified child was born dangerously anemic and in need of transfusions to keep him alive. But his parents – Jason and Rebecca S., as they are identified in the court’s ruling – are Jehovah’s Witnesses and say their religious beliefs prohibit giving the baby a transfusion.

Doctors at Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas believed the infant’s life was in danger if the transfusion wasn’t given immediately so, without parental consent, Dr. Martha Knutsen transfused him.

The parents went to court to prevent more treatments, even though the baby boy remained in critical condition. District Judge Gerald Hardcastle agreed with the hospital and granted Valley Medical temporary guardianship over the infant for medical purposes only.

The parents appealed to the Supreme Court. The danger to the boy is long past, but the court agreed to take the case because the issue of temporary guardianship because of parental refusal to treat a child could arise again in a Nevada hospital.

The court’s opinion concluded the district court accurately found the baby was “at a risk of substantial and immediate physical harm.”

“The district court’s decision to appoint a temporary guardian, ex parte, was based on the child’s best interest and protected the state’s interest in the welfare of children within this state,” the opinion says.

“While a parent has a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody and management of his child, that interest is not absolute,” the opinion says. It says their parental rights to practice their religion must “give way to the child’s welfare.”

Therefore, the court ruled, the parents’ rights were not violated by giving the hospital limited guardianship needed to ensure the infant boy received necessary medical treatments to preserve his life.

The opinion was signed by all seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.