When Government Gets Between Parents and Their Sick Children

A "medical child abuse" case shows what happens when the medical-government complex runs amok.

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What will the hospital of the future look like?
What will the hospital of the future look like?

In the realm of fiction, it would take an author with the combined talents of John Grisham, Michael Crichton and Franz Kafka to come up with a story like this. Unfortunately, it's not fiction and a family is being ripped apart because of it.

According to the Boston Globe, a 15-year-old Connecticut girl is being held a virtual prisoner in the psychiatric ward of Boston's Children's Hospital because of a dispute between that facility, her parents and doctors at Tufts University Medical Center who had been in charge of the case.

The problem began when the girl, who was being treated at the medical center for symptoms associated with mitochondrial disease, was referred to Children's on order to be seen by a specialist in gastroenterology who had recently moved there from Tufts.

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"Within three days, doctors at Children's disputed that mitochondrial disease was the primary cause of her symptoms and began to suspect that her parents were blocking psychiatric care that she badly needed," The Globe reported, adding that "clinicians at Children's decided that the girl suffered primarily from somatoform disorder, in which symptoms are real but there is no underlying physical cause."

The parents then complained Children's was changing their daughter's treatment regime without the consent of and without consultation with the doctor who had headed up her case at Tufts. When they threatened to remove her from Children's – even though she had never been seen by the specialist that prompted her to go there in the first place – the hospital asked the state's child protection agency to take "emergency custody" on the grounds that the girl has been a victim of "medical child abuse."

Whatever the term "medical child abuse" means – it seems to simply be a catch-all phrase doctors can use to threaten uncooperative parents who disagree with their recommendations for treatment – a Boston judge recently agreed the state was right to intervene and that the Connecticut girl would remain confined in a Boston hospital despite the concerns expressed by her parents and the other Massachusetts doctors involved in the case.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. As the Globe reported, this is the fifth time in 18 months that parents have lost custody or been threatened with state intervention to take custody away from their children at this one hospital alone, which should have everyone concerned.

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The folks at the Department of Child Protective Services have better things to do – and they do, like figuring out how many kids went missing from the Massachusetts foster care system over the last two years and what happened to them – than keep kids locked up in psychiatric wards. Still, they are not to blame. It's the doctors at Children's Hospital who give all the evidence of abusing their authority and who, contrary to their Hippocratic oaths, are first doing harm to the patient before trying to heal her.

For the rest of us, it is a fair question to ask how much more prevalent this kind of business will be after Obamacare firmly takes root in the American health care system. This is not about insurance; it's about treatment and about who will make the decisions concerning life and death.

We already know the new protocols will include the tacit suggestion to the elderly and chronically infirm that it might be better for all concerned if they just died rather than continued to fight on against disease and old age using the best available medical technology. Must we now also fear that the spindly fingers of state control will interpose themselves between parents and their sick children – with loss of custody the consequence for anyone who dares question the mandates or disobeys the regulations coming out of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health or the president's Office of Management and Budget? Increasingly, Americans are not in charge of their own health care; they're having control wrested away from them by a medical-government complex that will only grow bigger and more powerful if Obamacare is left as it is.

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The trend toward more government involvement in the American health care system, which began in the 1960s, is one that needs to be reversed. Cost containment, which now focuses on services rationed and care denied, should instead focus on the savings that will be produced when effective treatments for the untreatable and cures for the currently incurable can be developed and implemented on a wide scale. America needs to remain the world's medical innovation laboratory – which will be hard to do if Obamacare is allowed to go forward. Does anyone really believe that people who had at least two years to build a functioning website and could not get the job done will be the ones to lead the nation to a cure for pancreatic cancer or a non-surgical treatment that will reverse the buildup of plaque in the arteries that causes heart disease?

What has happened five times over 18 months at Boston's Children's Hospital is nothing less than an attempt by so-called caregivers to silence their critics. The Obamacare law as written and as it is being implemented will only lead to more of that. America needs a patient-centered health care system, not one dominated by a medical bureaucracy that puts complying with government mandates ahead of patient care – something that can be achieved even if it has to be done slowly. It's not at all true that we have to kill the patient for the operation to be a success.

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