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Droits des enfants au XXe siècle

David Niget
Yves Denéchère

Troisième partie. Protection et soin

The Historical Construction of Medical Neglect in the United States (1900-1930)

Lynne Curry


When is medical neglect a crime, a failure by adults to fulfill their duty of care to a child so grievous that it requires the sanction of the state? When is refusing medical care to a child an authentic expression of faith, worthy of constitutional protections for religious liberty? Beginning in 1901 in the United States, legal trials of parents for the faith-based medical neglect of their children lent concreteness and urgency to such abstract questions.

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Do children have a right to medical care? Do parents have a legal duty to provide it to them? If so, what parental actions satisfy such an obligation? When new medical therapies emerge, are parents legally required to seek them for their children? Do children’s rights to receive medical care trump parents’ rights to refuse it when such a denial represents a central tenet of their religious faith? In the United States, such complex and difficult questions first emerged at the turn of the twentieth century when followers of several new religions rejected mainstream medicine in favor of metaphysical healing practices, including prayer and the channeling of divine healing power through laying hands on the body of the afflicted. Church members soon faced legal difficulties for violations such as failing to report contagious diseases to public health officials and practicing medicine without a license. But in 1901, J. Luther Pierson of White Plains, New York became the first parent in the...


Professeure à l’Eastern Illinois University, où elle enseigne depuis 1996. Elle est docteure de l’University of Illinois à Urbana-Champaign. Ses recherches et publications se situent au croisement de l’histoire du droit et de l’histoire de la médecine aux États-Unis, avec un intérêt particulier pour la santé de l’enfant au regard du droit. Parmi ses publications, on compte : « “Special relationships” : the State, Social Workers, and Abused Children in the United States, 1950-1990 », inSchumann D. (ed), Raising Citizens in the « Century of the Child » : Child-rearing and Education in the United States and Central Europe in the 20th century (2010) ; The De Shaney Case : Children’s Rights, Family Privacy, and the Dilemma of State Intervention (2007) ; The Human Body on Trial : A Sourcebook with Cases, Law, and Documents (2004) ; et Modern Mothers in the Heartland : Gender, Health, and Progress in Illinois, 1900-1930 (1999).

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015

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