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09/23/87 In Re E.G.

September 23, 1987



Petitioner-Appellee, v.

E.G., a Minor, Respondent-Appellant

515 N.E.2d 286, 161 Ill. App. 3d 765, 113 Ill. Dec. 477

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Harry B. Aron, Judge, presiding.

As amended May 24, 1988 1987.IL.1410


JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court. FREEMAN, J., concurs. PRESIDING JUSTICE McNAMARA, Dissenting.


On February 23, 1987, appellant E.G., a 17-year-old woman, was admitted to a hospital and diagnosed as having acute leukemia. When appellant and her parents were told that her treatment would include blood transfusions, they refused to consent to such treatment because of their religious beliefs. Appellant and her parents are Jehovah's Witnesses; they believe that the reception of transfusions would be a violation of a biblical prohibition against the consumption of blood. They consented to any other type of treatment.

Attending physicians contacted the office of the State's Attorney; that office filed a juvenile court petition seeking a finding that appellant was medically neglected and the appointment of a temporary guardian with the authority to consent to the required transfusions. On February 25, 1987, a temporary custody hearing was held to determine whether a guardian should be appointed. At that hearing, a physician who had examined appellant testified that if transfusion therapy were not used, he would be "astonished" if appellant survived for an additional month. He also testified that appellant seemed to be mature, competent, and sincere in her religious beliefs, and that she apparently understood the consequences of refusing the recommended treatment. Additional testimony was given by the hospital official who was to take custody of appellant; the official concluded that appellant had independently decided to refuse transfusions. The court found probable cause to believe that appellant was medically neglected and appointed the hospital official temporary custodian with power to consent to all medical treatment. Appellant began receiving transfusions pursuant to this ruling.

The court called the case for reconsideration on April 8, 1987. Appellant testified that she had studied her faith for several years, and that she had been baptized at age 16, which made her an adult in the eyes of her church. Appellant also presented the testimony of a psychiatrist, who indicated that appellant had the maturity of an 18- to 21-year-old. The court delivered its final ruling on May 18, 1987. Though it expressly found that appellant was mature and had arrived at her decision independently, the court decided that the urgency of her condition justified a finding that she was medically neglected and adJudged her a ward of the court. The court's Dispositional order reiterated its earlier ruling and ordered that a hospital official "be appointed guardian of the minor respondent with the right to consent to blood transfusions when advised of such necessity by any attending physician." That order is the subject of the instant appeal.

Appellant claims that the trial court's "failure to extend to the Jehovah's Witness parties in this case a statutory benefit creates [ sic ] for parents who refuse medical treatment for their children because of a belief in spiritual healing violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Appellant contends that the court's finding of medical neglect would not have been entered had she been a member of certain other religious faiths. This argument is based on the following exception to the definition of medical neglect:

"A child whose parent, guardian or custodian in good faith selects and depends upon spiritual means through prayer alone for the treatment or cure of disease or remedial care may be considered neglected or abused, but not for the sole reason that his parent, guardian or custodian accepts and practices such beliefs." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 23, par. 2054.)

This exception is contained not in the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 37, par. 701-1 et seq.), but in the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, which requires health and welfare workers to notify proper authorities when they have reason to believe that a child has been mistreated. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 23, par. 2051 et seq.) Appellant claims that this exception also applies to the definition of medical neglect contained in the juvenile statute and interprets the exception to allow a member of a religion which practices faith healing to refuse medical treatment without being subject to a finding of medical neglect. She claims that the failure to include her own refusal of treatment in that exception denied her the equal protection of the laws.

We are unpersuaded by this argument. Though the Juvenile Court Act's definition of medical neglect is similar to that in the reporting statute, the former does not contain the exception which provides the basis for appellant's contention. We find nothing in the language of the juvenile act to suggest that its definition of medical neglect is to be read to incorporate any other statutory provisions. Our legislature may have intended to allow physicians to defer to religion-based refusals of medical treatment by excepting such refusals from the class of cases they are required to report; it may also have intended that those cases which do reach the juvenile Justice system be subjected to a court's analysis, not automatically excluded from the court's jurisdiction by a statutory exception. We therefore decline to incorporate the exception of the reporting statute into the Juvenile Court Act, and conclude that no member of any other faith would have been entitled to exemption from a finding of medical neglects simply because of his religious beliefs. Accordingly, we reject appellant's claim that the finding of neglect in the case at bar violated the equal protection clause of our constitution.

Appellant also contends that "the trial court's order requiring a seventeen year old mature minor to undergo compulsory blood transfusions in direct contravention of her religious beliefs and conscience violates rights guaranteed . . . under the First and Fourteenth amendments." In the court below, the State focused on testimony by appellant and other members of her faith which indicated that her church would view court-imposed transfusions as the court's transgression, not her own, and would support rather than punish her. This focus suggests that the juvenile court's action could be viewed as, at worst, a minimal infringement of appellant's religious freedom. We are compelled to explicitly state our disagreement with this suggestion. A Jehovah's Witness minister testified that the withholding of consent did not make transfusions a less difficult experience for one of his faith. He analogized appellant's suffering to that of a rape victim: "[Just] because the person exonerated you in having participated in it, it wouldn't mean that the trauma wasn't there. Forcing anyone to violate his consideration [ sic ] is the most painful indignity that an individual could have perpetrated against him." When appellant was informed that as a result of the temporary custody hearing she would be compelled to receive transfusions, she became upset and asked to be sedated before the treatment began.

Our supreme court, in In re Estate of Brooks (1965), 32 Ill. 2d 361, 205 N.E.2d 435, addressed the question of whether such treatment could be forced upon an adult Jehovah's Witness in spite of her religious convictions:

"It seems to be clearly established that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as extended to the individual States by the Fourteenth Amendment to that constitution, protects the absolute right of every individual to freedom in his religious belief and the exercise thereof, subject only to the qualification that the exercise thereof may properly be limited by governmental action where such exercise endangers, clearly and presently, the public health, welfare or morals." (32 Ill. 2d 361, 372, 205 N.E.2d 435.)

In Brooks, the probate court appointed a conservator of the person of an adult Jehovah's Witness and authorized the conservator to consent to transfusions for the adult. ...

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