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Can An Adult Child Sue Or Go After Their Parents For Neglect In Medical Care?

In an interesting story out of Idaho, a 20 year old woman with a serious life long heart defect, blames her parents for failing to get her the proper medical care that could have medically corrected the problem. Her parents did not trust modern medicine and now she wants her parents to face justice. She is hoping for an organ transplant that might save her life, but her anger is directed at her parents and their extreme fundamentalist religious beliefs that denied her the care she needed that could have resolved her heart problem. Mariah Walton’s parents are Mormons, and blames their religious beliefs for failing to act to correct her congenital heart defect that went untreated during her childhood. She is currently living with her sister Emily Walton, in Boise, Idaho.

At issue is the debate between religious freedom and medicine. Two years ago, Mariah found out that she was born with a hole in her heart. Her diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension. When she saw a doctor for the first time she learned that with proper medical care, the problem could have been taken care of. She also does not have a birth certificate or social security number. She is advocating that her parents be charged criminally. So far to date, no criminal prosecution has been undertaken, and the idea of doing so seems remote. Under Idaho’s 1972 act called the “Child Protective Act,” parents are immune from prosecution for any charges, including involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, providing however, they depend on faith healing in lieu of medical treatment. The statute provides that “no child whose parent or guardian chooses for such child treatment by prayers through spiritual means alone shall be deemed for that reason alone to be neglected or lack parental care.” There are five other states in the country that have faith-centered safeguards for felony crimes, including, Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Ohio and West Virginia. The United States constitution requires that the government not interfere with religious beliefs and practices. When the wishes of the state vary from the wishes of the parent, a court order is required to get medical attention for that child, but is usually difficult to obtain based on constitutional first amendment grounds.

Meanwhile, Mariah Walton remains severely medically incapacitated. She doesn’t know day to day, if her next breath, may be her last. She is currently taking strong medicines to keep her going and alive, but when they give out, her only means of living will be both a lung transplant and heart transplant.

This is really a heart wrenching story. If Mariah Walton cannot convince authorities to charge her parents criminally, do you think she should have the right to sue her parents in a civil action? Under Wisconsin law, a minor child has two years to start a lawsuit after the age of majority. If the now adult child was able to sue under the law, what would the cause of action be against the parents? What would a jury panel think of an adult child suing their parents, if the case survived a summary judgment motion.

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