Pediatricians' and Social Workers' Knowledge and Opinions of Florida's Religious Immunity Laws

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Abstract

Background.

Florida laws grant exemption from prosecution to parents who choose spiritual healing rather than conventional medical therapy for their children. Despite the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement supporting repeal of such laws, we believe pediatricians are not aware of existing statutes.

Methods.

A survey to assess understanding of Florida's religious exemption laws was distributed to pediatric house staff, faculty, and clinical social workers at a large teaching hospital and to community pediatricians in private practice.

Results.

Eighty-four percent of respondents were unaware of Florida statutes, and physicians were significantly less knowledgeable than social workers. Of those who understood the statutes, 92% believed physicians should overrule parents' decisions. Significantly more social workers than physicians believed that parents should be prosecuted for child abuse or neglect when medical treatment is withheld for religious reasons.

Conclusions.

Further education of pediatric health care workers is required before repeal of these laws will become a priority for legislators.

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