QuoteSummary of Policy StatementPolice: Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help
In this statement, the Committee on Bioethics, speaking for the AAP, addresses parental decisions not to seek or accept medical care for their children based on religious objections. The major role that religion plays in the lives of many adults and children in the United States is recognized, and the need for the pediatrician to be sensitive to and have respect for religious tradition is acknowledged. However, the AAP "believes that all children deserve effective medical treatment that is likely to prevent substantial harm or suffering or death," despite religious objections that the parents may hold. If efforts at collaborative decision-making with parents are not successful in getting their approval for appropriate medical treatment in such cases, a court order ultimately should be sought. If the child's life is in imminent danger, the physician should intervene over parental objections.
The AAP's position is consistent with that of the United States Supreme Court. As the AAP notes: "Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion do not permit children to be harmed through religious practices, nor do they allow religion to be a valid legal defense when an individual harms or neglects a child." (1) The AAP opposes exemption, based on religion, from child abuse and neglect laws when children are not provided necessary medical care. Failure to seek medical care when a child is seriously ill should be considered child neglect, regardless of the motivation. Laws that would allow an exemption on religious grounds should be opposed or repealed.
In the area of preventive care, a somewhat less forceful stance is taken. Although the AAP strongly endorses universal immunization, for example, it "does not support the stringent application of medical neglect laws" when children do not receive those immunizations due to parental refusal.