Sunday, April 5, 2009

Right To Choose Medical Treatments Declared Fundamental Right In Alaska

In a ruling issued April 3rd, click here, the Alaska Supreme Court held that Alaskans have a fundamental liberty and privacy right to determine medical treatments for themselves and their minor children. This office represented plaintiffs Dr. Patrick Huffman and Amy Reedy-Huffman in a case that challenged the state's right to exclude their children from public school because the parents refused to allow their children to be given the tuberculosis skin test.

Dr. Patrick Huffman, a Homer naturopathic physician and father of the children, determined that the state's tuberculosis skin tests could be harmful to the health of Stone and Elias Huffman and he signed a school district waiver stating his conclusions. Although the waiver is an accepted means of allowing children to attend school without the test, the State determined that it was valid only if signed by an MD or an OD, and not a naturopathic doctor. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District planned to exclude the children from public school if they did not take the test.

The Huffmans subsequently filed suit. The Huffmans argued not only the the State's regulation did not exclude naturopaths from signing the waiver, but that the invasive and possibly harmful test offended the Huffmans' freedom of religion and denied them the fundamental liberty interest in choosing the health care for their minor children.

Retiring Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews, writing for a unanimous court, states,

We have already held that the Alaska Constitution protects as fundamental rights the ability of every individual to control her own hairstyle and to make her own reproductive choices. We believe controlling one's medical treatments falls into the same category of personal physical autonomy. We now hold that the right to make decisions about medical treatments for oneself and one's children is a fundamental liberty and privacy right in Alaska.

The court remanded the case to Anchorage Superior Court for further proceedings as to whether the less invasive sputum test and blood tests for TB can satisfy the state's legitimate goal in protecting school children from contagious disease without infringing upon the Huffmans' fundamental liberty and privacy rights.