Nebraska Supreme Court upholds infant blood tests

Associated Press/March 28, 2005

Lincoln, Nebraska --The Nebraska Supreme Court has upheld a state law that requires mandatory blood testing of newborn babies, rejecting an appeal by a couple who said it violated their religious beliefs.

Josue and Mary Anaya of Omaha brought the case after being ordered by a judge in December 2003 to submit their newborn daughter, Rosa, to the metabolic test. The Anayas, who are fundamentalist Christians, said the test infringed on their rights and could shorten the life of their baby.

However, Supreme Court Judge John Wright wrote in the March 25 decision in Douglas City. v. Anaya that the testing law "does not unlawfully burden the Anayas' right to freely exercise their religion, nor does it unlawfully burden their parental rights.

"There is no evidence that the state had an anti-religious purpose in enforcing the law," Wright said. "Early diagnosis allows for prevention of death and disability in children."

The Anayas' lawyer, Amy Mattern, did not return a telephone call for comment.

State health officials have argued that the test, which consists of pricking an infant's heel to draw five drops of blood, is necessary to detect and treat metabolic disorders such as thyroid malfunctions that can result in severe mental retardation and sickle-cell anemia.

In ordering the test, Douglas County District Judge Patricia Lamberty noted that the U.S. Constitution gives parents the authority to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children without unwarranted state intrusion. She said, however, that states can intervene if they have a compelling governmental interest - in this case, preventing diseases.

Thirty-three states provide some sort of exception for people who object to the blood tests based on religious beliefs. Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and South Dakota have no such exception.

The high court also rejected arguments that the case was moot.

"One cannot refuse to comply with testing required within a particular timeframe and then claim that the case is moot because the time has passed," Wright said. "Were we to determine that the issue of testing is moot because testing has not been completed in the case at bar, we would create a loophole allowing parents to avoid compliance."

In a friend of the court brief, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Amy Miller said the state could not prove that the tests were necessary. The ACLU also represents a Saunders County couple in a federal lawsuit challenging the newborn tests.

Ray and Louise Spiering argue that the mandatory blood test would violate a tenet of their religion, the Church of Scientology. In the Church of Scientology, it is believed that babies are best served with seven days of silence after birth. The Spierings allowed the test when their baby was eight days old.

That case is still pending because U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf might rule on the law's constitutionality.

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