Parents Seek Exemption to Newborn Tests

By ANNA JO BRATTON
The Associated Press
Saturday, January 27, 2007; 2:57 PM

WAHOO, Neb. -- Ray and Louise Spiering wanted to observe a period of silence after their daughter Melynda's birth, but what they got was an uproar.

To the Spierings, Nebraska's requirement that newborn babies undergo blood screening within 48 hours of birth is an infringement on their religious beliefs and their right to decide what's best for their four children.

The couple attend a fundamental Christian church and follow some teachings of the Church of Scientology. Louise Spiering said they wanted "that balance of our beliefs included into the births of our children."

It's taken them and another set of parents to the Nebraska Supreme Court and the Legislature in a drive to make the newborn screening law more flexible.

The mandatory test, in which a few drops of blood are drawn from a baby's heel, screens for dozens of rare congenital diseases, some of which can cause severe mental retardation or death if left undetected.

Nebraska is one of four states _ along with South Dakota, Michigan and Montana _ that don't let parents opt out of the testing.

The Spierings wanted to avoid loud noises after Melynda's birth, and also reduce the pain she experienced in order to protect her physical and mental health. The concept comes from the Church of Scientology _ minimizing talking around someone who is in pain, said the Rev. Brian Fesler of Minneapolis, a regional representative for the church.

The church teaches that words spoken during moments of pain and unconsciousness affect physical and mental health later in life, he said. The church encourages silent birth, in which those attending avoid talking.

But the church doesn't discourage parents from having their children tested, Fesler said.

The Spierings, who apply some tenets of Scientology to their faith, took the silent birth concept a step further. They believe newborns are in pain for at least 3 1/2 days, and don't want blood drawn _ which they believe would cause more pain _ for at least that long.

They asked for seven days to complete the testing to avoid any unforeseen problems, although they would have preferred to skip the test altogether.

The state insisted, and in September a federal judge upheld the law as constitutional. The judge, however, granted the Spierings an eight-day waiting period while the case was pending, so their daughter was not tested within 48 hours.


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