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February 16, 1994

Massachusetts' New Child Abuse and Neglect Felony Law Repeals Religious Exemption

JAMA. 1994;271(7):489-491. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510310013006

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MASSACHUSETTS has adopted a law that makes child neglect and abuse a felony and has repealed the section of an existing law that exempts parents from prosecution for religiously motivated medical neglect of children.

Joining South Dakota and Hawaii, Massachusetts is the third state since 1990 to strike religious exemption from its child abuse and neglect statutes. The remaining 47 states and the District of Columbia still have statutes that provide various degrees of legal protection to parents who withhold medical care from children for religious reasons. Many of these religious exemptions inhibit prosecution even when medical neglect results in the preventable death of a child.

The effort to repeal religious exemption in Massachusetts was led by a coalition of more than 25 health, child advocacy, and civil liberty groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

The new law, which was signed by Gov William

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