Baby blood test raises many vital questions

Saturday, October 27, 2007

There are plenty of good reasons for having your baby's blood tested immediately after birth.

Usually performed within 48 hours of birth, the required test screens for dozens of rare diseases, some of which can cause severe mental retardation or death if left undetected.

Last year, of 26,819 babies tested, 537 tested positive for at least one of the diseases, and 43 of those results were confirmed, according to the state's Newborn Screening Program.

Public health experts and legislators feel those results are important enough that they've made it a mandatory part of state law.

That's fine with most of us; the test detects diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, and the earlier the medical treatment, the better.

The problem is, a few of us don't feel that way.

In fact, Josue Anaya and his wife, Mary, feel that certain Scriptures say the life is in the blood, and it shouldn't be drawn deliberately.

They came up against authorities in 2003, when their daughter, Rosa, was born. That case eventually went to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which turned down the Anayas' arguments. Rosa, however, never was tested.

Health and Human Services officials say they routinely compare the names of babies who have been tested against birth certificates, and after the Anayas had their 10th child, Joel, at home, they went to court.

After they failed to have Joel tested after receiving a certified letter, Douglas County sheriff's deputies came, court order in hand, to take the 6-week-old baby into custody, performing the blood test and placing him in foster care.

They did, however, allow Mary Anaya to nurse her son several times a day.

After tests came back negative, Joel Anaya was returned to his family and no criminal charges were filed.

Now the Anayas are going to court themselves, saying their rights to due process were violated when the baby was seized and tested.

"This is a classic case of the government overreaching and violating a family's constitutional rights," said Jeff Downing, the couple's attorney.

Whether he's right is something to be decided by the courts. But it's also a classic case of trying to balance the state's right to protect the health and safety of its most vulnerable citizens, against citizens' First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

It should also be a warning to society to get ready for more such conflicts, as we move closer to a national healthcare system and we have less and less power to make personal medical decisions.

Douglas County officials could argue that their hands were tied; Nebraska is one of only four states -- South Dakota, Michigan and Montana are the others -- that don't allow a religious exemption for parents who don't want the test to be performed.

At the very least, the Anaya case should motivate the Nebraska Legislature to provide such an exemption.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: