A second parental dispute over the vaccination of a child — less than a week after a Ferndale mother was sentenced to seven days in jail for failing to vaccinate her child in a separate divorce case — was before an Oakland County judge Monday.
In a hearing, the mother, Lori Matheson, and her attorney, Amy Ruby, are objecting to a court referee’s decision that she have her 2-year-old daughter vaccinated. Ruby did not return calls from The News on Monday.
The toddler’s father, Michael Schmitt, wants the child vaccinated. His attorney, Paul Schoenbeck, said he would not comment before the issue is decided.
The case is before Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald, who last week sentenced Rebecca Bredow of Ferndale to a week in jail for failing to vaccinate her 9-year-old. A judge previously had ordered Bredow to get the boy vaccinated by last Wednesday to keep her part of an agreement with the boy’s father.
The two disputes reflect a growing division nationwide over vaccinations, often a topic of concern between parents.
Some parents fear vaccinations are a factor leading to autism in children, a theory that’s been debunked by mainstream scientists. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine have concluded there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children.
Public health officials blame the anti-vaccination movement for a rise in U.S. cases of whooping cough, measles and other communicable diseases. The CDC said declining vaccination rates played a role in a 2015 measles outbreak that started at Disneyland and spread to 14 states, including Michigan.
In a legal brief, Matheson’s attorney outlined religious and scientific arguments against vaccinating the toddler. In testimony Monday, Matheson said her objections are based on religious grounds because some vaccinations are produced by using cells from aborted fetuses.
Matheson also testified that her child could be predisposed to autoimmune disease that might be triggered by vaccinations, and asked the court to consider results of genetic testing before ordering her to vaccinate her daughter.
“There are also some vaccinations that people who have a history of autoimmune diseases should not get, and this was alarming to me because of my family history and myself,” she told the judge.
The judge said Matheson was not a medical authority and ordered the hearing continued on Thursday.
One family law attorney, William Bereza of Grand Rapids, on Monday said vaccinations increasingly are at issue in divorce cases and custody disputes. In Michigan, parents can obtain a waiver to legally exempt a child from vaccination requirements, and only one parent’s signature is required, he added.
In custody cases where parents disagree, judges have the discretion to decide what’s in the best interest of the child, Bereza said.
“Michigan (case law) gives courts a lot of leeway in what they consider to be a child’s best interest,” Bereza said. “Basically if a judge believes that a child’s lack of vaccinations is going to harm the child, that’s really about all it takes for a court to have the authority to (order that the child be vaccinated.)
“If a judge orders something and the parent doesn’t follow it, that’s enough to put a parent in jail.”