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Children Vaccinated After Court Order Is Upheld

March 09, 1991|From Associated Press

BALA CYNWYD, Pa. — Two appeals courts on Friday upheld court-ordered measles vaccinations for five children whose parents belong to a church that shuns medical care, after another child from the church died of measles.

Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Ross then administered the shots Friday night in the presence of parents, a few grandparents and elders of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, which the families attend.

"Society does put limitations on religious rights," Superior Court Judge Vincent Cirillo said in ruling against the three families just hours before the youngsters were vaccinated.

Three families had appealed a Philadelphia Family Court ruling ordering the vaccinations, saying their religious abhorrence of medical treatment outweighed concerns about protecting the three boys and two girls from a measles epidemic.

After Cirillo's decision, the families immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which also refused to block the vaccination order.

Jerome Balter, the families' attorney, said the vaccinations would not adversely affect his clients' standings in the church.

"It was imposed by court order and these are law-abiding people," he said. "They're not too happy. They have great belief in faith and they are really convinced that what happens is due to a higher force."

The latest victim of the epidemic--which has killed eight children and sickened more than 700 other people since December--was 19-month-old James Jones. Officials said the child contracted measles nearly two weeks ago and suffered convulsions.

He died Friday morning at a hospital, two days after his father alerted health officials. Ross said officials believed the child died from measles, but were awaiting confirmation from the Medical Examiner's Office.

His mother is a member of Faith Tabernacle, as are the families of four other victims. The family of one child who died belongs to First Century Gospel Church, which has similar beliefs.

The judge responded: "When that freedom interferes with the rights of other people, there is the right to intervene."

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