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State seizes sick children in child custody disputes

Parents who are seeking appropriate medical treatment for their youngsters always have the best interests of the child at heart - right? Although it seems as though this would be a fair assumptions, cities and states sometimes feel the need to remove children from the physical custody of their parents if the young person is not receiving their definition of adequate medical treatment. Pennsylvania parents with severely ill children run the very real risk of having their parental rights suspended simply because a government official does not agree with their choices for their kids. That is what happened to another East Coast family, who is now embroiled in a custody dispute that centers around their daughter's illness.

The girl suffers from a variety of conditions, including a rare genetic defect known as mitochondrial disease. Recently, she was transported to the emergency room because she was having difficulty swallowing. The girl was taken to a different hospital than normal because her gastroenterologist had moved his practice. Now, although the girl's internist was at the new hospital, her other specialists were not. After the girl was at the hospital for just three days, physicians at the new facility claimed that her problems were largely psychiatric, and they refused to administer medication provided by her other long-time specialist.

The parents objected, and that is where the saga begins.

When the girl's father went to the hospital, seeking her discharge and transfer to her specialist, he was confronted by orders from officials from the state's child protection agency, who alleged that the family was medically abusing their daughter. Officials said that the couple was providing their child with unnecessary medical treatment, so the state seized custody and forced other treatment upon her.

This is hardly the first time this has happened in the East Coast state; recently, a teenager spent seven months in a locked psychiatric ward - away from her parents - after the state took control of her medical care.

Although this type of child custody case is relatively rare, it is a constant concern for parents of terminally ill children with newly diagnosed ailments. Mitochondrial disease is still controversial within the medical community, which is why the girl's treatment was seen as abusive. Parents have the right to provide the best medical care for their children, no matter the opinion of the state in which they live.

Source: Boston Globe, "A medical collision with a child in the middle" Neil Swidey and Patricia Wen, Dec. 15, 2013

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