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Newmark v. Williams

    Brief Fact Summary. Colin Newmark’s parents (Defendant) refused medical treatment for his advanced cancer, preferring instead a course of prayer.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The interests of the state in preserving life must be weighed against the constitutionally protected interests of the individual.

    Facts. Colin Newmark suffered from a severe form of cancer that was almost surely fatal.  His parents (Defendant), Christian Scientists, refused chemotherapy for him.  A state law exempted parents from abuse and neglect statutes if they refused treatment for their children for medical reasons.  Child Protective Services (Plaintiff) sought to compel the treatment.

    Issue. Must the interests of the state in preserving life be weighed against the constitutionally protected interests of the individual?

    Held. (Moore, J.)  Yes.  The interests of the state in preserving life must be weighed against the constitutionally protected interests of the individual.  Parents can choose to refuse medical treatment for their children based on religious reasons.  The parental right to choose for a child can only be invaded for the most compelling of reasons.  To determine what is in Colin’s best interests, the court must consider the effectiveness of the treatment prescribed for him and the treatment’s probably effect on him.  In this case, the chemotherapy the doctor recommended would have caused Colin great agony and would probably have failed in the end.  The Newmarks’ (Defendant) parental prerogative and Colin’s right to some human dignity in the short time left to him, when compared to the futile and painful medical treatments, are the priority.

    Discussion. Most states begin with an assumption in favor of parental autonomy.  Where a compelling reason exists to invade the parental rights, the presumption can be surmounted.  Usually the concerns of the state are weighed against the rights and concerns of the parents in deciding the appropriate course of action.


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