Parental Rights

By Neil Skjoldal

What rights do parents have when it comes to the medical care of their children?

This bioethical question has recently arisen in the case of Noah McAdams, a 3-year-old who has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  According to news reports, the recommended treatment in his case is chemotherapy.  His parents decided that they did not want to pursue that course of treatment and took the child out of state for a different course of treatment. Noah’s mother, Taylor Bland-Ball, posted on social media that they were planning on treating him with “rosemary, vitamin B complex, herbal extract, colloidal silver and mushroom tea, among others,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.  In that article, Dr. Bijal D. Shahof Moffitt Cancer Center states,”I put it in the same box as those who fear vaccination . . . The reality is, what we risk by not taking chemotherapy, just as what we risk by not taking vaccines, is much, much worse.” 

State officials tracked down the parents in Kentucky and took Noah from them and placed him in the custody of his grandparents.  According to reports, a district judge would be making a ruling on the treatment issue. 

Bioethics wrestles with the relationship of an individual’s (or parents’) rights to the larger concerns of the state.  In an effort to denounce the state’s activity, some have called its actions “medical kidnapping.”  What role does the ethical principle of autonomy play in this case, even when the treatment is said to have a 90% success rate?  In some cases, (e.g., blood transfusions) the state steps in to authorize medical care that is deemed absolutely necessary.  Does this case meet that standard?  Not all the facts have been made known yet, but the judge will surely need wisdom in order to reach a just conclusion.

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