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Families Consist of Individuals

Via KipEsquire's Twitter feed, here's an interesting case about the power of the government to overrule medical decisions made by parental proxy.

A Minnesota judge has ruled a 13-year-old boy with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a highly treatable form of cancer, must seek medical treatment over his parents' objections.

In a 58-page ruling Friday, Brown County District Judge John Rodenberg found that Daniel Hauser of Sleepy Eye has been "medically neglected" and is in need of child protection services. Rodenberg said Daniel will stay in the custody of his parents, but Colleen and Anthony Hauser have until May 19 to get an updated chest X-ray for their son and select an oncologist.

Going only this far into the story, I'm inclined to believe that this is wrong because other reports I've read state that the boy understands his condition. Thirteen is not objectively too young for the child to consent or refuse. There must be a sufficient standard (the details are difficult and beyond the scope of this entry) to judge the child's competence in the matter, but if the child passes that, I see no reason to interfere.

Rodenberg wrote that Daniel has only a "rudimentary understanding at best of the risks and benefits of chemotherapy. ... he does not believe he is ill currently. The fact is that he is very ill currently." Because of that and other evidence in the case, Rodenberg ruled there is a "compelling state interest sufficient to override the minor's genuine opposition."

Parents act irresponsibly if their child is incapable of deciding and they choose treatment (nutritional supplements and other alternative treatments) with no scientific basis instead of treatment (chemotherapy) with a high success rate. There are no perfect decisions in something as complex as cancer. Still, some level of objective comparison is possible, and success rates show this isn't close. Doctors say he has a 5 percent chance of survival without chemotherapy and up to 90 percent with it.

A court-appointed attorney for Daniel, Philip Elbert, called the decision unfortunate.

"I feel it's a blow to families," he said Friday. "It marginalizes the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children's medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us."

Government has a role to play when people make decisions for another person. Pick a scenario where that qualifier isn't involved and I will defend an individual's right to make subjective, possibly fatal decisions for himself. But within that scenario, which applies to medical (and non-medical) decisions parents make for children, the government's role is legitimate. It must protect the child from neglect and abuse, regardless of parental intention.

This case is similar to the case of Abraham Cherrix. My entry is here.

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