Medical Neglect Law & Legal Definition


Medical neglect is the failure to provide medical dental or psychiatric care that is necessary to prevent or treat serious physical or emotional injury or illness. Neglect occurs not only when a parent refuses medical care for a child in an emergency or for an acute illness, but also when a parent ignores medical recommendations for a child with a treatable chronic disease or disability, which results in frequent hospitalizations or significant deterioration. Even in non-emergency situations, medical neglect can result in poor overall health and compounded medical problems.

Child protective services agencies generally intervene when:

  • Medical treatment is needed in an acute emergency ( For example when the child needs a blood transfusion to treat shock);
  • A child with a life-threatening chronic disease is not receiving the required medical treatment (For example a child with diabetes is not receiving medication); or
  • A child has a chronic disease that can cause disability or disfigurement if left untreated (For example, a child with congenital cataracts needs surgery to prevent blindness).

In the above situations, the child protection services agencies may seek a court order for medical treatment to save the child’s life or prevent life-threatening injury, disability or disfigurement.

Usually in determining whether a parent’s refusal to consent to medical treatment amounts to neglect, the courts use three approaches:

  • An Ad-hoc test
  • Best interests of the child test
  • A balancing test that weighs the interests of the parents, child and the state.