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Nebraska girl is focus of custody suit between mother, doctors

Should doctors or hospitals have the right to demand that custody of a child be taken from its mother in order to provide treatment?

Some doctors in Nebraska think so -- and the court may agree. The doctors for a teenage girl have filed a request with the court to place the teenager in the emergency custody of the state's health department so that she will receive recommended care for a brain tumor.

The teenager has already had two surgeries for her condition but she needs chemo and radiation treatments to ensure her best rate of survival. Without those treatments, her odds of surviving the tumor drop from as high as 70 percent to under 10 percent. Doctors say they are frustrated by the teen's mother, who is aware of their concerns. The mother failed to bring the girl to at least two appointments for treatment, which has now been delayed for over a month. She also refused to return the hospital's urgent phone calls.

The mother says she is seeking time to obtain a second opinion about the necessity of the chemo and radiation and that her daughter doesn't want to undergo the procedures. When social workers visited the home, the mother stated that she simply had a personal feeling that the treatment shouldn't be pursued because of "negative energy." She has an appointment for the teenager with another hospital for an evaluation.

The court has appointed a representative to protect the teenager's interests. Under the current proposal, the girl would be permitted to remain in her mother's home, but given the treatments whether the mother objected or not.

This situation, while not common, isn't exactly unusual. Doctors and hospitals in other states have done similar, seeking to override the wishes of parents -- and sometimes patients -- when they believe that it is necessary to save a child's life. The court has to balance the right of parents to do what they think is best for their children with the child's actual needs.

Cases like this remind parents that custody situations can arise whenever a child is at risk -- and opposition can sometimes come from surprising directions. If a parent is unwilling or incapable of acting on behalf of his or her child's best interests, the court will be forced to step in.

Source: Live Well Nebraska, "Doctors and parent of 15-year-old Omaha girl with brain tumor spar over treatment options," Mara Klecker, April 04, 2018

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