A federal judge has ordered two Scientologists to comply with Nebraska's mandatory blood test for newborns. The Scientologists, Ray and Louise Spiering, claim that the requirement violates their religious belief that newborns should be reared in complete silence for the first seven days after birth. A belief that is apparently shared by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
According to the Washington Post Judge RIchard Kopf ruled:
It is true that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the "fundamental right" of parents to make decisions as to the care, custody and control of their children. But it is equally true that a state is not without constitutional control over parental discretion in dealing with children when their physical or mental health is jeopardized.
Mandatory blood tests have been justified on the grounds that they can identify metabolic disorders such as phenylketonuria (PKU). Treatment of PKU within the first 3 weeks of birth can prevent permanent brain damage and resulting mental retardation.
Bringing the case now is puzzling because the court allowed the Spierings to delay the test until after the seventh day of the baby's birth. Thus it would seem that the religious requirement of 7 days of silence has long been met.
So what is the proper balance between parents and the state regarding the welfare of children? Generally the state should butt out; however, such tests remain mandatory because I suspect that the vast majority of parents welcome information that could help improve their children's health. (My prejudice: More information rather than less–I don't have kids, but had I some, pretty much any blood test would be fine with me.)
The amount of information that can be gleaned from blood tests is going to explode as genetic tests multiply. New York state now requires that infants be tested for 44 different genetic diseases. The impending collision between state-mandated blood testing and privacy concerns is going to make sure that this issue is with us for a long time to come.