Mueller v. Idaho: Parents' right to make medical decisions at stake in lawsuit

Summary judgment hearing in Boise

Today U.S District Court Judge Judge B. Lynn Winmill will hold an important hearing regarding a class action lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the City of Boise and St. Luke’s Medical Center for violating the constitutional right of parents to direct the medical treatment of their minor children. The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Individual Rights on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Muller and their daughter Taige. At issue are motions for summary judgment filed by the parties.

The case grew out of the seizure of 5 week old Taige Mueller from her mother, Corissa Mueller, in 2002 during a late night visit to the St. Luke’s Emergency room to treat her for a mild fever. Physicians sought to immediately administer a spinal tap to the infant in order to ascertain whether she was suffering from meningitis. Concerned about the risks of such a procedure, Mrs. Mueller sought to delay the spinal tap while several other, less invasive treatments were administered.

Unbeknownst to Mueller, emergency room personnel contacted Idaho Child Protective Services. Though two Boise Police Officers dispatched to the hospital initially questioned whether Taige was in imminent danger, an Idaho Child Protective Services worker suggested they seize Taige anyway , commenting that, “Well, if nothing else, she [can] go to shelter for two days and in that time she would be treated…And then in shelter care the judge can say, ‘Oh send her home.'”

With approval of CPS supervisors, a St. Luke’s doctor performed the spinal tap while a Boise Detective and two Officers confined the mother to a room and refused her request to allow her to call her husband.

The suit alleges that city, state, and hospital officials violated the Muellers’ constitutional right to direct the medical treatment of their minor children.

Corissa Mueller stated, “What happened to me and to my daughter must never happen again. The St. Luke’s physician conspired with CPS officials to prevent me from caring for my daughter at a time when she most needed me. I was in disbelief as these officials sidestepped my rights as a parent when I clearly had my baby’s best interest in mind.”

CIR President Terence Pell added, “The child protection practices of Idaho and many other states unacceptably give officials a blank check to seize our children. There was no reason to seize the Mueller’s infant child while putting her terrified mother under virtual arrest. Fortunately, the Constitution makes clear that parents have the right to make important medical decisions — not the state.”

The suit seeks to enjoin Idaho officials from administering unauthorized medical treatments without first obtaining a court order as well as unspecified compensatory damages for the damages suffered by the Muellers.