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Legal Studies Inquiry "Is it appropriate for the Australian legal system to override privately held religious beliefs in the

safety of children?" When the safety of children is mentioned or referred to in any circumstance, it is usually always crucial that their safety is indeed attended to at any cost or sacrifice. This straightforward notion is also likely to apply to legally obscure situations, and perhaps, it may therefore be arguably fair to state that it is appropriate and highly necessary for the safety of children to be mandatory when a given religion, or set of religious beliefs, may threaten their safety. It could however, in a small-scale, miniscule sense, be debated that the law is failing to abide by the religious faith of citizens and values which are of a binding religious nature, in response to the legal system overriding privately held religious beliefs in the safety of children. An investigation into this issue will be undertaken throughout the course of this legal inquiry. The intricacy of child safety overriding privately held religious beliefs has been exemplified in Australian courts and in the Australian legal system, predominantly through cases involving the Jehovah Witnesses religion and opposing parties, which may include the courts themselves, hospitals or other individuals. These cases are renowned as having evoked a degree of turmoil and uncertainty as to the grounds in which courts have ruled against the favour of the Jehovah Witnesses religion, and instead ordered that the immediate safeties of children are solely attended to, and not that privately held religious beliefs preventing the children's safety are honoured. A South Australian case in June 2012 outlined the proposition of privately held religious beliefs preventing the immediate safety of a young child, though the South Australian Supreme Court ruled against this proposition. The family of the victim, a young South Australian girl, were devoted members of the Jehovah Witnesses religion. The Jehovah Witnesses religion forbids any means of medical operations taking place which may include the transfer of anyone's blood for the aiding of a member of the religion, or vice-versa. It is illegal for an operation in South Australia to be performed on a minor under the age of sixteen unless there is consent from parents and unless it is advised by at least one professional doctor. This is outlined in the Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care Act 1995 (SA), which states that an operation dispenses with the need for consent if the emergency procedure is required to meet an imminent risk to the life or health of the child. In the South Australian case previously outlined, the victim had been diagnosed with a severe case of Leukaemia, and according to medical opinion (Paediatric oncologist Dr Petra Ritchie), she was bound to die 'within weeks' and 'had a 90 per cent chance of survival if she received treatment immediately'. The Supreme Court justice stated that 'the court is to act in what are the best interests of the child', and immediately ruled that she have a blood transfusion as it would rightfully contribute to the effectiveness of the victim's treatment and would significantly risk the possibility of the victim dying.

It is said that legislation authorising doctors to give vital blood transfusions, which empowers the safety of children, was introduced after a number of cases in which parents who were members of the controversial Jehovah Witnesses religion, refused these blood transfusions to be performed on their sickly and needy children, which often, tragically, resulted in the fatalities of the children. It is documented that legislation, which was supposedly designed to prevent parents from making fatal decisions in regards to their children's safety based on their own private religious grounds, was initially introduced after a landmark case took place in Victoria in 1960, known as the State v. Jehu case. In this case, a man, the father, was convicted of manslaughter for disallowing a blood transfusion to take place and instead accepting that his son's death was 'by way of God'. It can be argued, as a result of the verdict of this case, that it is illegal in Australia to prevent children from obtaining a safe passage of life by means of privately held religious beliefs. It is therefore reasonable to state that it is appropriate for the Australian legal system to override privately held religious beliefs in the safety of children. The legal system in Australia has also demonstrated in other past instances, that it is not willing to leave any form of chance to children who are plagued with medical deficiencies in situations where death is a strong possibility. Past Judges have, like the previously outlined South Australian case, strictly ruled that children, who may have Jehovah Witness religious backgrounds, seek immediate treatment such as blood transfusions, regardless of whether it is agreed upon by the parents of the child. During the year of 1993, a case was pursued in the courts of New South Wales, whereby a young child of only four years was disallowed a vital blood transfusion by his Jehovah Witnesses parents. The boy was familiarly a leukaemia patient whose treatment was nearing its final, last resort stages. The boy was given no chance of survival through the lack of a blood transfusion. Instead, the doctor on duty abided by the parents’ wishes and aimed to treat the child in any way that they possibly could by simultaneously avoiding the onset of performing a blood transfusion. The doctor told the court that there was a 50% chance of the child’s survival if they facilitated the child with a blood transfusion. The parents argued that the child could be treated in ways which excluded the proposition of a blood transfusion, thus, treating the child whilst concurrently respecting their wishes. However, despite making comments which commended the sincerity of the parents’ religious beliefs, the Judge ruled that the child be given a blood transfusion and thus equipped with a 50% chance of survival. The family of the victim, in this case, did not object to the ruling or appeal it, as they ultimately were only seeking the fulfilment of their child's wellbeing. However, if the family strongly and somewhat callously, had opposed the Judge's decision, they could have argued that the decision of the court was largely unjustified as, in the future, the boy could potentially suffer from mental stress as a result of the parents’ religious fanaticism and through the proposition that his life was ‘prolonged by an ungodly incident since the fact that the responsibility for consent was taken from his parents by a judicial act’. A potential legal argument could be formed on the basis of this proposition. Through the fact that the

child could be raised with possible psychological problems as a result of the law having intervened with their families religion, the family could have argued that the final decision of the court was not ultimately ‘in the best interests of the child’ or ‘for the assurance that the quality of the child’s life will be benefitted’. The freedom of exercising religious beliefs in Australia is protected by section 116 of the Australian Constitution. Through the study and overlooking of past cases which highlight the legal issue of whether it is appropriate for the legal system to override privately held religious beliefs in the safety of children; it can be deemed through the final verdicts of such cases that is undoubtedly appropriate. It is just for the legal system to intervene in these controversial circumstances to ensure that the best interests of the child, or the victim, are by all means attended to.