Parental or Government Rights?

May 18th, 2009

A disturbing case of parental neglect (or perhaps parental rights) has arisen in Minnesota; the report is in the Digital Journal.

Daniel Hauser is 13 years old, he is now in 5th grade (three years behind), but he cannot recognize the simplest written word — Daniel is illiterate. Daniel also has cancer. Daniel was diagnosed with stage IIB nodular sclerosing Hodgkin’s disease, a treatable cancer. He received one chemotherapy treatment after he was diagnosed and his cancer seemed to respond, but, according to the article, “Daniel refuses to receive additional chemotherapy.”

There were some bad effects from that first chemotherapy session, as there are in almost every case. The family consulted five doctors, and each recommended that Daniel receive additional chemotherapy, but Daniel continues to refuse further treatment.

It is, of course, Daniel’s family that is doing the refusing and the influencing of Daniel’s decisions. They believe in traditional healing practices called Nemenhah.

Where it stands right now: A Minnesota judge has found that “Daniel Hauser is a child in need of protection or service (as) has been proved by clear and convincing evidence.” Daniel has been assigned a Guardian ad Litem and has been ordered to undergo a complete X-ray exam, and the case will be back in court on May 19th.

The question also stands before the court of public opinion (on which you are a jury member):  Should parents have the right to deny treatment for their child based on their religious beliefs?

I confess I am torn — at least up to a point. I violently object to the government inserting itself into health issues, but in this case the issue is a child’s health — a child whose parents have apparently withheld a good education from him, have had him (as you will read in the linked article) sign affidavits that he can’t even read, and have given the court the name of a doctor who has never even met Daniel as Daniel’s primary physician. Clearly these are parents who are either too ignorant to understand that their son may die very soon without treatment (it may already be too late) or they are so devoted to their religion that they are positive that their version of alternative medicine will cure him.

For the welfare of a child, in a case where the child needs medical treatment and is not receiving it, I would have to fall on the side of forcing the treatment on him. I, if I were the judge in this case, would also be strongly inclined to remove the child from the home unless the parents allowed a qualified doctor to recommend treatment and they then complied.

News links:

Judge rules and orders treatment in religious child neglect case, Digital Journal
War For Boy Who Refuses Chemo, AP/New York Post
Boy with cancer should not be a casualty of ignorance, too by Jon Tevlin, Star-Tribune

Blog link:

Judge overrules family’s alternative medicine to treat boy, 13, for cancer, Calvin Palmer’s Weblog

(This article was also posted at My View from the Center.)


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15 Responses to “Parental or Government Rights?”



  1. Aftercancer |

    I am in complete and total agreement with the Judge in this case and agree with you that this child should probably be removed from the custody of his mother. Additional information I’ve read indicate that this 13 year old boy who has been “home schooled” is unable to read. There are clearly other issues in this case.


  2. Jan |

    I don’t agree with the judge in this case. Chemo is not a magic pill. It’s a powerful poison that can have a lot of nasty side effects. My wife died of cancer despite major bouts of chemo recommended by doctors who conceded that wasn’t working when it became clear she was dying. I think people should be able to choose whether or not to have any medical procedure.


  3. Tom |

    Seems to me the boy has been abused in a couple of ways. First, his education is severely deficient. Whatever the reason for that, his parents (if not education officials) should have done something about that a long time ago. Second, he’s been indoctrinated in a crackpot belief system that he doesn’t even understand. This isn’t a freedom of religion issue; the state should have intervened earlier to protect him.

    I haven’t had the close-up exposure to chemotherapy treatments that Jan has unfortunately had, but I’ve heard and read that it can be pretty hard on the patient, often without positive results. As I understand this, the court hasn’t directed that he receive chemotherapy; it has appointed a guardian and ordered that the boy receive appropriate medical attention. That would seem the right thing to do in a very difficult situation.


  4. Samuel |

    An adult should have the right to die when a life-threatening illness takes them and they are in sound mind and choose not to fight it. No other human being should have that right over another, even parents. As for the child himself, I don’t think children have the mental faculties to make intelligent decisions like that. Until he hits 18 it shouldn’t be the parent’s, or his, right to waste away and die.


  5. Pdon |

    Informed consent (or rejection) should transcend the barriers of age (which serve only as a cursory indication of capacity). However, in this case it is evident that the child in question is likely incapable of making a desicion – ergo, this choice should be moved on to another agency.

    The question at hand, is which institution, family or state has the best ability to perform to the needs of the children. Whilst it may seem in the best interests of a child to perform treatment it poses an alarming threat to medically related cases in the future. Where does the “right” of state intervention in medicine end?

    On that vein, I would advocate parental choice in the matter* – as these highly publicised cases are rare, and the dangers of setting precedent of this nature are high.

    *So long as neglect (omission/comission) cannot be proven.


  6. jay |

    If we allow the state to dictate what is best for the child, regardless of the parent’s deepest held beliefs…..then they can do the same to any child, and any parent, and any belief. When did we become comfortable with the idea that medical opinion trumps individual liberty?


  7. Tom |

    Jay, absolutist answers are rarely appropriate for issues of public policy and law. Reality is always nuanced.

    The reason our system provides for the state to step in to protect those who can’t protect themselves, especially children, is because children sometimes need to be protected from those who should be caring for them. This is a pretty extreme case, and it seems to me that it was decided wisely and in the best interests of the child. All sides were afforded a fair hearing and due process, so I don’t see how this is an example of the “state dictating” at the expense of “individual liberty.”


  8. Kevin |

    I agree, Harvey. There have been cases where the child was able to demonstrate to the judge that there was no undue influence and was allowed to decline life-saving treatment. the case I’m remembering was a kid of a similar or slightly younger age whose prognosis even with the latest and greatest medical wizardry was almost nil. Perhaps that was easier for the judge to take a different tack on, I dunno.

    It’s a tough call, I agree wholeheartedly. And in the absence of obvious parental interference I would err on the side of respecting such a difficult choice. But in a case like this where it’s hard to imagine how this kid could NOT be unduely influenced by his parents beliefs I agree with what this judge decided.

    All of which underscores in my mind what has become an unpopular concept these last few years and decades: that judges ought to be able to judge rather than be micromanaged by political stuffed-suits. Give them solid parameters and some disgression and let them do their incredibly difficult job.


  9. Alice |

    I agree the boy needs medical help.But what I don’t understand is that these parents beliefs are being taken away.If any of you had the Judge telling you what to do with your children you would be upset. What is the difference between these parents doing what they are doing and women killing babies before they are born. Both I feel are wrong. But why does our Judges think that a person can’t decide what is right for they’re minor child, but it’s alrigh for the same person to kill babies up to 8 months in the womb. My daughter was born 8 weeks early and she did just fine. Where is the parents rights in this.


  10. Harvey |

    BREAKING NEWS:

    Daniel, his mother and their lawyer are now missing!

    According to THIS AP REPORT They disappeared after their court ordered doctors appointment on Monday. The judge has issued an arrest warrant for the mother.

    The doctor’s prognosis was good, if Daniel underwent more chemo.

    Things just got even more complicated!


  11. HawaiianPun |

    As Dawkins would say, “There is no such thing as a Christian child, or a Muslim child [or, in this case, a Nemenhah child]; there is merely a child of Christian or Muslim parents.” This kid has been brainwashed since birth to believe his parents’ religious views are the one true way. If he had been given a decent education and then, five years from now, independently decided to follow the ways of Nemenhah, fine. That’s his prerogative. But to be forced into it when, at age 13, he still can’t read about the benefits of chemotherapy is hands down child abuse.


  12. Harvey |

    HawaiianPun,

    Excellent and valid point! Thanks for contributing!


  13. jay |

    Public policy and law in our culture is premised on the idea of individual liberty. The state, by virtue of forcing what it considers the best for a person…even if that may actually be the best…asserts ownership.

    To be completely pragmatic; I see no benefit to society by having the state assume parental control over a child because the parents refuse to follow instructions of a medical authority that contradicts their religious beliefs. I do; however, see great harm in the state dictating what religious beliefs it will allow and which they will override by force. There is a price for liberty. While it is unfortunate that a great number of children are reared in the superstitions of religion, would you really be willing to have the state decide which religion is valid and which is not?

    The state may say it exists to protect us. We have a constitution to protect us from the state. I am definitely absolutist when it comes to a question of ignoring the constitution when it doesn’t suit my desires.


  14. Harvey |

    Jay,

    I agree with every word of your comment and hold the same beliefs you do.

    I have a hard time being objective and principled, however, when the life of a young boy is being literally thrown away. That’s why I vote for intervention, be it judicial, or community based or any other way.

    If you change your focus, as I have as I thought about this case, you might reach the same conclusion I have: this isn’t about religion or governmental interference in religion, its about the worst kind of parental neglect, the lethal kind, and someone, IMO, has to do something!

    Google News reports tonight that Daniel and his mother are still on the run so I imagine his fate is all but sealed; every day the cancer is allowed to attack Daniel’s body is another day closer to his funeral.


  15. jay |

    Well Harvey, after thinking more about it, you’re right that there are differences between principles and practicality. Parents have the right to raise children according to their principles but parents do not own children and can’t do whatever they want with them. Personally, I hope that they find the boy so that he will start getting the treatments. Otherwise, I feel that he would probably die needlessly and in pain. I can’t quite see this as neglect…such as a parent not obtaining medical treatment because they are spending their money on booze or crack instead….it’s just stupidity. I can understand the reasoning of the mother, but it’s still stupid.

    I imagine that this will not end well.


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