Wednesday, June 02, 2010

San Joaquin County HRA v. Marcus W. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 2, 2010)

What would you do in this one?

Marcus W. is a sixteen-year old minor who has sickle cell anemia and has had multiple strokes as a result, starting when he was a very young child. The standard treatment for people in his condition is periodic blood transfusions. Marcus' parents, however, are Jehovah's Witnesses who have religious objections to this procedure, and Marcus eventually shares their faith. Doctors try alternative, non-transfusion therapies, but they fail; indeed, Marcus has a stroke during one of these alternative procedures. Still, Marcus and his parents object.

So the County files an application with the juvenile court for continuing blood transfusions. Marcus and his parents object, saying that even though Marcus is a minor, his beliefs should be taken into account -- the "mature minor" doctrine -- and transfusions not ordered. The trial court disagrees. So up to the Court of Appeal it goes.

This is a standard law school tale. It's the usual story about competing religious and secular values as well as their application to minors. A good story, and one worth thinking about. What would you do as the doctor, the parent, the County, or the judge?

But this one also has a twist. Once it goes up, the Court of Appeals notices that the statutory scheme expressly allows emergency petitions like these only in certain specified conditions, none of which are expressly met here. The usual way that these things get filed is because the County files a dependency petition on behalf of the child, which is one of the specified conditions. But not only is this very burdensome, but it's also bad for the parents, since it both stigmatizes them and may result in taking away some additional rights over the child. So for Jehova's Witness cases in which all the County wants is a blood transfusion, for the good of everyone, the County's policy is to just file the request rather than invoking a more expansive procedure.

Marcus and his parents don't object below, but the Court of Appeal raises this issue sua sponte, and holds that the County has to file a dependency petition. So sends it back down.

Think that's the right way to deal with these things?

Does it matter to you analysis that by the time the case actually gets back down to the trial court and resolved there, Marcus will be 18?

Something the opinion doesn't mention, but that's easy to figure out.