Under Maine law, parents who don’t want their children to be vaccinated can opt out, whether their objections are medical, religious or philosophical.

But Maine’s highest court recently ruled that parents who lose custody of their children to the state also forfeit the right to make medical decisions for those youngsters — such as refusing immunizations. The court’s ruling is a sound one that recognizes the duty of state officials to do all they can to protect kids in their care.

At the root of the case is the state’s decision to take temporary custody of a 1-year-old boy who was put at risk, officials said, by the continued relationship between the child’s mother and his father, who abused her. (None of the family members are named in court documents.)

The child was also “deprived of necessary health care,” according to Maine’s District Court. His mother opposes vaccinations, saying, “I do not believe in viruses,” and sought no treatment for her son’s hernia, stating that when the rupture becomes apparent, she pushes it back.

When the lower court granted custody of the child to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, it also ordered the DHHS to have the boy vaccinated. The child’s mother appealed the ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The law court, though, upheld the District Court decision — and it should be commended for doing so.

By taking custody of a child, the state has made itself accountable for that child’s well-being. And overwhelming scientific and medical evidence points to vaccinations as being one of the best ways to keep a child from getting a life-threatening illness. Ensuring that a child is immunized, then, is obviously in the best interest of the child. (Not to mention those around the child, including pregnant women, elderly adults and others who could get seriously ill or even die from an infectious disease.)

Maine is among the states with the most lax vaccination requirements and highest rates of unvaccinated children. So undoubtedly, some will believe that the mother’s parental rights have been violated by the decision upholding the vaccination order.

But these people are on the wrong track. In this case, parental rights have yielded to the state’s determination that a little boy isn’t being cared for properly. As long as he’s in state custody, the state has the right to make ordinary medical decisions for him — and the child has the right to the care and protection that have, so far, been denied him.

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