Vaccinations: Maryland’s ground rules for the potential parental battle

Family law is a big tent — and as we saw with the EOB bill, sometimes that tent needs to cover health-care law.  With all the news about measles outbreaks and the dispute over vaccination requirements, Daily Record reporter and Maryland Family Law Update contributor Lauren Kirkwood looked at Maryland’s law. Here’s what she found:

  • Like all states, Maryland has a medical exemption to the requirement that school-age children receive vaccinations for diseases including measles, mumps, polio and hepatitis B. It requires a note from a licensed physician or health officer, which must detail the medical condition that serves as a reason not to be immunized; whether the medical condition is temporary; and if so, when the child will be eligible to receive the vaccine, said Amy Major, associate director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security.
  • Like 27 other states, Maryland does not provide a philosophical or “personal belief” exemption but does recognize a religious exemption.

In a practical sense, though, several legal experts said there may not be much difference between the religious and philosophical exemption here:

“In many states that only have the religious exemption, I think in practice, it’s functioning like a philosophical exemption,” said Kathleen Hoke, director of the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. “They are not investigating, in any way shape or form, the basis of the claim for the religious exemption.”

The only evidence a parent must provide in Maryland of his or her sincerely held religious belief is a self-certified form to that effect. While this not true of every state that lacks a philosophical exemption, Hoke said, one reason could be that giving the government the authority to decide whether a religious belief is valid conflicts with the First Amendment.

“It’s very difficult to prove sincerity or disprove sincerity,” said Jonathan Montgomery, an attorney in Gordon Feinblatt LLC’s health care practice group. “For instance, Christianity in general or Judaism in general may not have an objection to vaccines, but no particular person is required to believe in the common version of Christianity or Judaism. They could say, “vaccines go against my personal Christian belief.’ How do you challenge that?”

You can read the full article here.

About Barbara Grzincic

Barbara Grzincic is managing editor at The Daily Record and edits TDR's Maryland Family Law Update.

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