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A Better Partnership
March 24, 2016

COA: Unfit parents cannot raise religious objections to the immunization of their children

In In re Deng Minors, No. 328826, the Court of Appeals held that once a parent has been adjudicated as “unfit,” that parent relinquishes his or her right to object to the inoculation of his or her children on religious grounds.  Accordingly, during the dispositional phase, the trial court has the authority to order vaccination of a child when immunization is appropriate for the welfare of the child and the public.
 
Respondent and her husband were adjudicated as unfit parents for their four children due to homelessness, improper supervision of the children, substance abuse, and failure to provide proper support for the children. The children were made temporary wards of the court and placed in out-of-home foster care.  At a permanency planning hearing, the foster care worker requested an order from the court requiring the children to be immunized.  Respondent objected on religious grounds and was provided with a hearing.  Following the hearing, the trial court issued an order requiring the physician-recommended vaccinations over respondent’s religious objections. 
 
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision on three separate grounds.  First, the Court held that while parents have a fundamental right to care, custody, and control of their children, once a parent has been deemed unfit, the state may interfere with these rights for the health and protection of the children.  This is so because following adjudication of a parent as unfit, the parent is no longer presumed to make decisions in the child’s best interests.  Second, the Court held that the provision of Michigan’s Public Health Code that exempts children from vaccination requirements if a parent objects on religious grounds was inapplicable because the trial court did not order the immunizations under any provisions of the Public Health Code.  Rather, the court did so under its broad powers to enter orders regarding the welfare of a child under its jurisdiction.  Finally, the Court held that respondent’s reliance on Hunter v Hunter, 484 Mich 247; 771 NW2d 694 (2009), was misplaced.  Respondent cited Hunter for the proposition that her right to object to the immunization of her children does not depend on whether she is a fit or unfit parent.  However, because Hunter’s holding was specifically limited to cases involving the Child Custody Act, which was not at play in this case, Hunter was inapplicable.

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