Are the Scientologists Right On This One?

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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.

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  1. If Tom Cruise’s parents had only had access to pre-natal genetic screening…

  2. Perhaps ironically, couching the argument in religious terms almost assures defeat for the parents. Requiring all newborns to be tested is viewpoint-neutral and therefore does not “discriminate” against Scientologists — any more than laws against animal cruelty “discriminate” against voodoo witch doctors.

    The strictly secular argument that parents ought to enjoy great deference in the absence of a clear risk to the child would go a lot further in any Fourteenth Amendment litigation.

  3. Barring any obvious symptoms of a life threatening problem the parents should have the say. As an expectant father I would want the PKU test, but I also understand that it is a actually fairly rare condition. Not having the test doesn’t mean your kid is going to develope PKU. It just means you don’t know. Not my preference, but also none of my business.

  4. “”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.
    “””

    I think the “when their physical or mental health is jeopardized” is the important clause. So my question is does the lack of screening equate to jeopardy? I say no.

  5. The amount of parental control in medical decisions, the state claiming constitutional control of your children, Scientology v. ‘real’ religions, philosophical differences between PKU treatments and vaccines, then (of course) the inevitable slide into mercury levels in themerisol, Tom Cruise being a gay wierdo that shouldn’t have been fired from Paramount because Redstone is an idiot, and the pros and cons of placenta eating.

    I’m pulling up a chair for this one, folks.

  6. The amount of parental control in medical decisions, the state claiming constitutional control of your children, Scientology v. ‘real’ religions, philosophical differences between PKU treatments and vaccines, then (of course) the inevitable slide into mercury levels in themerisol, Tom Cruise being a gay wierdo that shouldn’t have been fired from Paramount because Redstone is an idiot, and the pros and cons of placenta eating.

    I’m pulling up a chair for this one, folks.

  7. Maybe I’m missing something, but how hard is it to take a blood sample in silence? Or do they think that would cause the baby to cry? But surely Scientologists don’t think the noises all babies make is a problem, do they? Do Scientologists gag their newborns?

  8. As an expectant father I would want the PKU test, but I also understand that it is a actually fairly rare condition. Not having the test doesn’t mean your kid is going to develope PKU.

    The thing about PKU is that there are two ways to find out. Either your kid gets the test or he comes in contact with the normally essential and harmless amino acid and it turns him into a vegetable. The odds may be long that your child has PKU, but the low, low risk of a heel prick for the blood sample is worth it.

  9. how hard is it to take a blood sample in silence?

    Free speech issue right there.

  10. Sitting here holding a baby that made it through six attempts at a blood drawing recently, it is NOT a silent operation. And those genetic tests require syringes full of blood. If New York is mandating the tests for normal babies, I’m crying for them.

  11. And those genetic tests require syringes full of blood.

    I don’t think you can get syringes of blood from a newborn. In fact, from the MSNBC article about New York’s program:

    New York is among several states that use new technology called tandem mass spectrometry, which takes a single drop of blood to screen for at least 20 diseases.

    I’m not in favor of the gov’t requiring these tests, but anyone who would pass them up for their newborn is something far worse than a fool.

  12. I thought the post said 44 known disorders. I know the multi-array test, 150 tests, takes 5 milligrams, about two syringes. My ten month old had the blood, but the veins were so narrow they had to call in the doctor to tap an artery.

  13. So someone starts collecting info on you at birth? Wonder who has access years later?

    I could envision people marked at birth and having their lives restricted by these initial findings. If information exist, it is not secure.

    eHorny.com

    New category: “Breeding With Your Partner” with individual genome/blood work reviews.

  14. I believe religiously that we should do all we can to encourage Scientologists to continue the practice, indeed to extend their period of complete silence for a minimum of seventy years . This should in no way curtail the careers of America’s most eminent Scientologists, and wound indeed be conducive to the rebirth of the greatness of the American silent film. Imagine a remake of Birth of a Nation staring Isaac Hayes and Tom Cruse , or a performance of the ajor works of the sainted L.Ron Hubbard by the National Space Opera of the Deaf.

    No applause please.

  15. 5 milliGRAMS? of blood?

    i call bullsh*t (fcc approved)

    last i checked, blood is a liquid. it is not measured in milligrams, but in milliLITERS.

    or am i missing something?

  16. anyone see nip/tuck last thursday?
    Trust the tech…

  17. And 5 milligrams (mg) of blood is about 5 microliters (uL) of blood… we’re talking some tiny syringes! One “drop” is usually considered to be 50 uL.. that’s about 50 mg.

  18. Nothing wrong with waiting a week, but opting out is pretty stupid…

    http://www.medhelp.org/lib/pku.htm

    Society’s interest in this is that these children will become a drain on community resources if not treated. Sometimes the decision of the individual impacts others. This is the case here. What better option than a legal requirement do you suggest?

    “Average lifetime costs per person were estimated at $1,014,000 for persons with mental retardation, $921,000 for persons with cerebral palsy, $383,000 for persons with hearing loss, and $601,000 for persons with vision impairment (Table). Indirect costs accounted for the largest percentage (range: 69%–81%) of total costs associated with each DD. Total direct costs (i.e., direct medical plus direct nonmedical) amounted to approximately $12.3 billion for persons with mental retardation, $2.2 billion for persons with cerebral palsy, $601 million for persons with hearing loss, and $721 million for persons with vision impairment. Among total direct costs, special education accounted for a substantial percentage (range: 42%–78%) for each DD.”
    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5303a4.htm

  19. andy… yer #’s are correct. and consistent with my point, which is even better 🙂

    blood is measured in all sorts of fluid unit – ml’s, iu’s, etc.

    but not milligrams.

  20. James Ard,

    The article says they’re using mass spectroscopy, not microarrys, so your experience may not apply.

    Mass spec is about the most sensitive technique out there. Development of its applications in biology in the last few years has been one of the really big success stories (e.g. chemistry Nobel prize 2002). It’s quite plausible that it only needs a drop of blood.

  21. I should have said 5 milliliters, or 5 cubic centimeters, which would be a mass of 5 grams if it was water. I hope the mass spectroscopy will make it less traumatic. But I still don’t think expensive genetic testing is warrented for every baby. Especially considering genetic disorders can only be treated and not cured at this point. If there is a symptom spend the money, but testing everyone is a racket.

  22. Whit, yes I agree with your point… and it seems the simplest explanation was correct… James Ard meant mL, not mg.

    James Ard, whether or not it’s a racket depends on the facts. If the screening has a relatively fixed cost independent of number of “tests”, then more data is better. Or maybe it’s not so much a chemist racket, but an evil plot to collect data for insurance companies!

  23. james ard, i appreciate the correction. thankfully, this is not DU, where daring to admit error is tantamount to selling one’s soul.

    it was a minor quibble, but i mentioned it because it was part of a larger argument, that i believed suspect since the basic premise was flawed (milligrams).

    anyways, no biggie.

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