Last Tuesday, Judge Karen Townsend ruled that the woman L.K. was mentally incompetent and ordered that she be forced to have the surgery as recommended by her doctor. She heard testimony from a psychiatrist and found that the L.K. was experiencing “religious delusions.”
However, it is not clear where the court draws the line between legitimate religious beliefs and religious delusions. Many atheists and agnostics view all religion as a delusion while many adults believe strongly that only God can heal them.
The Constitution protects the right of people to make these choices — even at the risk of their own lives. We draw the line at children, who are often the subject of orders for life-saving medical care over the objections of religious parents.
If however an individual is incompetent, the court does have authority to make such decisions. Generally, however, such individuals cannot function in public and are in state hospitals. The concern is whether a court can treat the religious belief (vis-a-vis the surgery) as the evidence of religious delusion.
Judge Townsend may ultimately be upheld if the record can establish that the women is incompetent and cannot make decisions for herself.