You could lose custody of your children if doctors or hospital staff don’t approve of your parenting methods or medical decisions. There have been a number of cases in recent years where doctors and social workers have conspired to strip parents of their rights and their children.
The newest pretext for taking children from parents is called “medical child abuse.” Medical child abuse means that a parent is subjecting a child to unnecessary medical treatment for an imaginary illness. Here’s how US News & World Report writer Peter Off described medical child abuse: “It seems to simply be a catch-all phrase doctors can use to threaten uncooperative parents who disagree with their recommendations for treatment.”
Hospitals Try to Take Parental Custody
Medical child abuse was the pretext that doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital and state social workers used to take Justina Pelletier, 15, away from her parents and place her in a locked psychiatric ward. Justina’s parents lost custody of her in Massachusetts even though they are residents of Connecticut. On Monday, the girl was ordered by a judge to be moved into foster care. Her mother fainted upon hearing the news in court.
The Boston Globe reported that there were at least five cases in which Boston Children’s Hospital tried to strip parents of custody. Those cases included a 16-year-old girl with autoimmune disease who was locked in a psychiatric ward and a five-year-old boy whose parents were escorted from the hospital by security.
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At least one parent, Gabriel Hilliard, accused Boston Children’s of having social workers try to pressure another hospital to take her son.
Justina Pelletier’s parents can only see their daughter for an hour on Friday afternoon.
Nor have these cases only occurred in Boston. Pennsylvania residents Scott and Jodi Ferris had to go to court to get their newborn baby out of the Hershey Medical Center in 2010. The hospital took the baby away from Jodi after social workers learned that she didn’t want to vaccinate the baby and had planned on a home birth.
Ferris and her husband were escorted out of the hospital by police because they didn’t agree with the hospital’s treatment plans. The couple has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the hospital with the help of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Line Between Social Services and Hospitals Blurs
The danger of losing custody at a hospital is growing because medical facilities are increasingly becoming an arm of social service agencies; social workers like the one who tried to take Jodi Ferris’s baby away from her are increasingly stationed at hospitals, as supporters of the system have acknowledged.
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“Having a CPS worker dedicated to (family issues) will strengthen the relationship between physicians, the health care community and CPS by providing for an intense collaborative relationship where critical information can be shared confidentially,” Dr. Steven Turkovich told The Buffalo News. Turkovich is in charge of quality and patient safety at Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York.
“Together we will make every investigation more robust and complete,” Turkovich said. “Ultimately, this will ensure that children are placed in an environment that will maximize their potential, keep them safe and provide the necessary supports for both them and their caregivers.”
What Turkovich is saying is that social workers from Eerie County Child Protective Services (CPS) will be able to examine or interview any child that enters the hospital – and take children away from families at the hospital for often controversial reasons.
The Pelletier case is unique because doctors at two hospitals disagreed over her diagnosis, with Boston Children’s Hospital saying her diagnosis at Tufts Medical Center had been wrong. Boston Children’s says her problems are all mental, but her parents strongly disagree. Her father said Monday her health is “rapidly declining,” and her legs and stomach are swollen because she is not receiving the proper treatment.
“The story of Justina Pelletier is like a horror movie,” said Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, which is helping represent the family. “The State of Massachusetts cannot make Justina a prisoner merely because her parents followed the medical protocols recommended and administered by a respected medical institution responsible for her care. The more light shed on the situation, the more it becomes apparent that the behavior of DCF and Boston Children’s Hospital is indefensible.”
Fortunately there are some steps that parents can take to protect their rights when their children enter the hospital. Some of these steps include:
- Take the child to a private hospital or a facility without social workers present if possible. Smaller hospitals often are the best option.
- Be careful who you talk to. If somebody who doesn’t appear to be a doctor, nurse or medical technician starts asking questions, ask who they are and why they are asking questions.
- Be careful what you say. Try not to discuss religious and political beliefs, and lifestyle choices such as homeschooling or gun ownership. Some social workers believe that conservative beliefs and homeschooling constitute child abuse. Don’t give them a reason to act.
- Be willing to fight for your rights. If a social worker tries to take custody call an attorney, the media, elected officials and civil rights or libertarian groups immediately. In many cases they will back off if they find they have to fight.
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