September 2020 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

An Alaska woman has no right to deny her mother medical care and treat her exclusively through faith healing, the Alaska Supreme Court has ruled.

The case concerned a woman with epilepsy identified as Tiffany O. who was being cared for by her daughter, called Rachel O. in court papers. Tiffany O. was removed from her daughter’s care after Rachel O. announced that she would treat her mother only with prayer – even in the case of a medical emergency, reported the Anchorage Daily News. 

Rachel O. sued to get custody of her mother back and argued in court that her religious freedom rights were being violated.

The Alaska Supreme Court disagreed and ruled unanimously on July 24 that Rachel O. had no right to put her mother’s life in danger by denying her medical care.

“[B]y depriving her mother of personal care services and emergency services in favor of prayer, Rachel not only fails to satisfy the essential requirements [of state law], but also puts Tiffany’s health and safety at risk,” ruled the court.

It added, “If Tiffany required immediate medical attention, the results [of withholding it from her in favor of ‘faith-healing’] could be fatal. For this reason, while religious liberty is a fundamental right under the Alaska Constitution, the state’s actions in this case are justified by a compelling interest.” (In the Matter of the Protective Proceedings of Tiffany O.)