The release of the Covid-19 vaccine caused a deep division within the United States. As the pandemic continued, and new strains of the virus surged and infected the country, several workplaces and businesses mandated vaccination for employees and customers—which generated even further debate. Just when it seemed like there was no greater disagreement amongst citizens than the Covid-19 vaccine, the disagreement became even greater when the vaccine became available for children.
The new debate over the Covid-19 vaccine is playing out in divorce court and child custody cases. What happens when parents who have shared medical decision making disagree about whether their child should get the Covid-19 vaccine? Many are turning to the court for answers and the trend seems to be in favor of vaccination, primarily because the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and most pediatricians promote and support vaccinations for children.
In a recent case, a district court judge went against the norm and refused to take judicial notice of information about the safety and importance of childhood vaccination as endorsed by the Center for Disease and Control and allocated final medical decision making to the parent who did not want the child to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
On appeal to the Maine Supreme Court, the Court rejected the judge’s decision, in part, because “a parent’s adherence to medical advice is relevant to the determination as to appropriate allocation of medical … decision-making.” Accordingly, the Court held that because there was evidence that the mother failed to accept the advice of established medical sources— the court vacated the judgment in part and remanded to the trial court to explain whether it was appropriate to allocate final decision-making authority to a parent who did not follow medical advice.
From this decision, it appears that the Law Court is setting the precedent that when parents disagree about medical decisions then the parent who follows the recommendations of the medical community and CDC will prevail unless there is competing evidence that says it is not in a child’s best interest.
Case: Seymour v. Seymour, 2021 ME 60