WALLED LAKE, MICH. - Less than a week after jailing a mother who refused a court order to vaccinate a child, Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald must decide another case of divorced parents who can't agree on whether to vaccinate.
Lori Matheson of Walled Lake doesn't want to vaccinate her 2-year-old daughter, citing health concerns and religious objections. She's asked the court to delay any ruling until she's had the chance to have genetic testing done to see if her daughter could be predisposed to vaccine injuries.
Matheson's ex-husband, Michael Schmitt of Troy, wants the girl immunized. The two have disputed the case for months and now are before McDonald seeking a resolution.
McDonald listened to more than a hour of testimony this morning from Matheson on why she objects to vaccines for things like chicken pox, measles, mumps and Rubella. McDonald adjourned the case until Thursday, when Schmitt is expected to testify.
At issue is who has the authority to make vaccine decisions when parents are divorced.
Matheson claims she does, citing language in her divorce judgement naming her as "primary parent responsible for "the child's "ordinary health care needs."
She said she's been leery of vaccines since 2006, when her older children from a previous marriage needed them. She said she's researched them and learned that some people could be predisposed to problems from them and she wants the genetic testing to determine if her daughter could be one.
"I believe that you have the right to make that decision for your child," Matheson said. "I feel I have done my research."
Matheson said her religious objects were because some vaccines are "cultured in the aborted fetal cells," and others contain animal blood.
She added that Schmitt was aware of her objections to vaccines when they were living together. She said if the judge is going to order vaccines be administered to the child that she wait until genetic testing can be done.
McDonald asked Matheson's attorney, Amy Ruby, why no medical expert was being called to testify to verify Matheson's concerns.
"How am I supposed to make a determination about whether a child should be vaccinated if you're not going to present any evidence at all from anyone other than your client, who's not a doctor, not a medical professional," McDonald said. "You can't just put her on the stand and ask her what she's read and who she's talked to. This is a court. We have rules. I was expecting you to bring forth medical profession so that the court can make a meaningful determination."
When the judge asked Matheson if she would agree to vaccinate the child if the doctor's recommended it, she said no, citing her religious objections.
Schmitt's lawyer, Paul Schoenbeck, objected repeatedly during Matheson's testimony, saying her descriptions of what doctors said about vaccines are inadmissible hearsay.
Schoenbeck noted that the divorce case was arbitrated and the parties agreed to certain things.
Matheson "agreed at the arbitration that she would vaccinate the minor child pursuant to the recommendations of her pediatrician," Schoenbeck wrote in court pleadings. "Michael Schmitt has a say whether his child gets vaccinated."
On that point, McDonald agreed, saying "Dad gets a say."
The case is the second recent one in front of McDonald covering divorced parents who disagree on whether to vaccinate their child. Last week, McDonald held Rebecca Bredow in contempt of court for ignoring a previous court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son.
McDonald sentenced Bredow to seven days in jail and has another hearing in that case scheduled Wednesday.
McDonald said that Bredow had previously agreed to vaccination, but Bredow insisted her attorney who filed the paperwork agreeing to vaccinated, erred in the pleadings and didn't represent her true wishes.
Outside the courthouse, about a dozen protesters held up placards supporting Matheson and her right to refuse to vaccinate.
"I don't think think the government should force you to get the vaccine," said former Congressman Kerry Bentivolio, one of the protesters. "I think you should know all the risks."
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