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Kids & Parenting

State Takes Big Bite Out of Parental Rights

- Dr. Karen Gushta : Truth in Action Ministries
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The push against parents’ rights is unrelenting. The most recent field of engagement, not surprisingly, is health care. Two recent cases show the extent to which government employees and health care professionals are colluding to make decisions that should rightfully belong to parents.

In October an 8-year-old boy in Ohio was taken from his school by social workers and placed in foster care. The boy’s mother was told that she could see him once a week for two hours.

Marie Louise Madigan, the county spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services claimed that the boy was removed from his home because “case workers considered this mother’s inability to get her son’s weight down a form of medical neglect” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The child’s weight condition was flagged when his mother took him to a hospital for breathing problems. He was diagnosed with sleep apnea — often weight-related. As a result, social workers were placed on his case to monitor him under “protective supervision.”

For a time the boy lost weight as doctors worked with his mother to try to bring his weight down from over 200 pounds. However, during the past few months the child began to gain weight and the county stepped in and removed the boy from his mother’s care.

The county has no specific policy on dealing with obese children. But we should not be surprised if policies to this effect become commonplace. In a recent editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston argued, according to The National Review, that “morbidly obese children with serious obesity-related health problems should be placed in public care.”

“This is the first time anyone in the county or the state can recall a child being taken from a parent for a strictly weight-related issue,” notes The Plain Dealer report. But it might not be the last. The state health department estimates more than 12 percent of third-graders statewide are severely obese.

The boy’s removal from his home has sparked commentary. Tony Perkins wrote in his Washington Update, “The government can encourage healthy life choices, it can equip parents with important nutritional information, but it should never impose its will on families. Otherwise, the real problem won’t be chubby children, but a state that helps itself to too much authority.”

Similar thoughts were expressed on forums such as ObesityDiscussion.com. “We’re going to allow the state to take away our children and begin legislating minute details in our lives down to what we are allowed to eat,” wrote one forum member. “But at least I am speaking up about it, someone must.”

As Perkins pointed out, “taking a little boy from his family could have a far more devastating effect on his life than his weight ever will.” But that did not enter in to the calculus when these county employees made their decision.

Such narrow consideration of what is “in the best interest of the child” is also on display in another case, that of 8 year-old Jacob Stieler. When the boy was diagnosed with a dangerous bone cancer, his parents took him to an oncology center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jacob had surgery to remove a tumor and then went through several arduous rounds of chemotherapy.

The family enlisted hundreds to join them in prayer for Jacob’s complete recovery. When a PET scan was done after the chemotherapy was complete, there was no evidence of cancer in Jacob’s body.

In spite of his clean PET scan, however, the oncology center doctors ordered more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation in accordance with the common “standard of care” for Jacob’s type of cancer.

Not convinced that this was necessary in their son’s case, Jacob’s parents studied the side effects of the powerful drugs the doctors wanted to administer. They found that possible effects included damage to the cranial motor nerves, failure of boys to sexually mature, and the inability to father children. One of the drugs the doctors wanted to use has not been tested for safety in children, and the Food and Drug Administration disclosure for another drug states that “pediatric patients are at increased risk for developing delayed cardiotoxicity.” In other words, the drug could have harmful effects on the child’s heart.

When Jacob’s parents refused to consent to further treatment for their son, the doctors called the county child protective services where the family lived and asked them to charge the family with medical neglect.

At first the county child protective service agency and the local prosecuting attorney refused to prosecute the Stielers. The doctors were not deterred. They called the state CPS, persisting until they found someone who was willing to pressure the local CPS agency into filing charges of medical neglect against the parents.

Speaking about this case, Michael Farris, Chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Fund, says: “Parental rights are increasingly being lost in the medical arena. I am beginning to wonder why physicians even bother asking for parental consent if they will just do an end run around the parents whenever it is convenient for them to do so.”

Farris is now representing the Stielers, who are going to court in January in order to retain their right as parents to make this decision themselves regarding their son’s medical care.

The local prosecutor has still refused to take action against Jacob’s parents, however, and so the state CPS office has hired an independent private lawyer to prosecute the case against Ken and Erin Stieler.

As Michael Farris wrote in a recent HSLDA Weekly Update:

"Our nation was founded upon the traditions of Western civilization. This civilization was founded on the principles of the Word of God. God gives children to parents — not to the state, and not to doctors. In cases like this one, our legal system must remain steadfast in following the principle that God has delegated these kinds of decisions to parents, not to doctors, social workers, or courts."

Dr. Karen Gushta is research coordinator at Truth in Action Ministries, author of The War on Children, and co-author of Ten Truths About Socialism. As a career educator, Dr. Gushta is has taught from kindergarten to graduate teacher education in both public and Christian schools in America and overseas. She has a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education and Masters Degrees in Elementary Education and Christianity and Culture.

Publication date: December 13, 2011