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Maine can vaccinate child over mother’s wishes, court says

AUGUSTA, Maine — State officials can have a child in their custody vaccinated over the objections of a parent, Maine's highest court ruled this week.

In a 3-to-1 decision, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower-court decision that ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to vaccinate a child against the wishes of the mother, who does ''not believe in viruses,'' the court said.

The child — who, along with the mother, was not identified in the case — had been taken into temporary state custody because of concerns that the mother's continued relationship with the 1-year-old's father put the child's safety at risk, the court said.

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The mother chose not to vaccinate her child ''based on her refusal to accept scientific facts,'' and did not give the child antibiotics because she believes that the ''mind can cure all,'' the ruling said.

The justices said the state agency was correct to take the child into its custody, finding there was sufficient evidence that the child was in jeopardy at the home. Their ruling also said that the department has the right to make medical decisions, including those related to vaccinations, for a child in its care.

Erika Bristol, an attorney for the mother, said she is not sure what action her client will take next. Bristol said the mother believes that people should be allowed to hold their own views on health care without being punished.

''People are allowed to have opinions that aren't supported by science in other issues,'' Bristol said. ''But apparently in Maine that is not the case with vaccinations.''

A spokesman for the state agency declined Friday to comment on the decision.

Justice Joseph Jabar, writing a dissent to the vaccination ruling, noted that Maine law allows parents to forgo the preventive treatment for personal and religious reasons. He said the decision to disregard the mother's views on vaccinations effectively terminates her parental rights.

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''It is not up to us to determine whether the law giving the parents the right to opt out of vaccinations is wise or medically sound — the Legislature has given parents this right,'' Jabar said.

''If the department wants to vaccinate the child immediately over the parent's objection, it should request a hearing and convince the court by clear and convincing evidence that this statutory parental right should be terminated.''