Past court rulings about denying medical care to Oregon teens

The Oregonian/January 18, 2010

As the faith-healing parents of a 16-year-old boy go on trial after his death of an untreated urinary blockage, readers are debating questions central to Jeff and Marci Beagley’s defense, including: Under what conditions can a minor in Oregon make his or her own decisions about their own healthcare?

After my column about jury selection in the trial, Rita Swan, founder of the nonprofit group Childrens Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, had this to say about this issue:

"In fact," she wrote in an e-mail, "Oregon law does require that teenagers be provided with medical care necessary to prevent serious harm even if they have religious beliefs against it.

"Here's a very strong Oregon example. In 2005, four months before his 18th birthday, Berkley Ross Conner, Jr. was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. As Jehovah's Witnesses, Berkley and his father refused transfusions. (The mother was not JW, but supported Berkley's refusal.)

"The doctors at Oregon Health Sciences University petitioned the court for an order authorizing transfusions.

"Berkley and his parents testified that he was an honor student who understood the nature of his disease and the consequences of refusing a transfusion. He had chosen to be baptized as a Witness the previous summer.

"The Multnomah County Circuit Court issued an order for transfusions should they be necessary, noting that its own "obligation is to enforce the laws of this state, and the law in this state is that somebody under the age of 18 is a minor and therefore does not have the legal capacity to make this kind of a medical decision.

"The family appealed. The appeals court refused to overturn the trial court decision, but also declared the appeal moot because by then Berkley was 18. In the Matter of Berkley Ross Conner, Jr., 140 P.3d 1167 (Ore. 2006)

"I spoke with Mickey Serice of the Oregon DHS recently. He said it is their protocol to obtain orders for medical care of those under 18 regardless of the minor's objections. (Of course there are qualifiers based on the need for medical care, whether it can safely be delayed until the minor is 18, the risks and benefits, etc.)

"Maybe the DHS worker Jeff Lewis who visited the Beagley home was trying to point out to Neil that he had the legal right to obtain medical care on his own even if his parents objected.

"Another huge issue to us is that the Followers of Christ teens who reject medical care have no information about their disease. They don't know the consequences of their decision or the options medical science has available."

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