PORTLAND – Children in the custody of the state can be immunized over the objections of their biological parents, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case that involves the eight children of a couple with religious objections to vaccinations.
The court found that the children are in the custody of the state, which entitles the state to administer medical treatment.
“Immunization is less invasive and more routine than surgery, which (the Department of Human Services) specifically may authorize as the wards’ legal guardian,” Justice Rives Kistler wrote in the opinion.
The eight children, from ages 1 to 10, were found in a Marion County home after a neighbor complained. A caseworker for the state agency found the children dirty, garbage strewn on the floor and the children’s educational needs “barely addressed” by their mother’s home-school curriculum.
In January 2012, the children were placed in foster care, and the parents agreed that they had failed to provide for the children’s educational and hygienic needs. But they disagreed that the children had been medically neglected.
When the department sought to immunize the children, their mother objected, saying vaccinations went against her beliefs.
Oregon leads the nation in the rate of kindergartners whose parents seek exemptions from vaccinations because of nonmedical reasons.