Where Does the Comparison Fail? Part Two

I compared infant male circumcision to tattooing a child based on a recent example from California. My original analysis translates to this story:

A Floyd County man has been charged with child cruelty after authorities say he tattooed his 3-year-old son.

Floyd County Police Sgt. Teri Davis said Eugene Ashley, 24, tattooed the back of his son’s right shoulder with “DB,” which stands for “Daddy’s Boy,” sometime this spring. The man told police he was intoxicated at the time, Davis said.

The children remain with their mother; Eugene Ashley was arrested May 21 and faces charges of child cruelty and tattooing a person younger than 18 years old, the latter being a misdemeanor, Davis said.

Like father, like son. Right? Or is there some limit to parental consent and imposition? Again, both a tattoo and a circumcision are a permanent mark on the child’s body without the child’s consent. There is justifiably a law against tattooing, but there are more dangerous risks – bleeding, infection, amputation, death – involved in circumcision, an unnecessary surgical procedure. This is a double standard with no justifiable defense.

As I wrote in my initial entry:

None of these possible exemptions satisfies the primary ethical flaw in either violation. The act is forced upon the child without his consent. Necessity requires an acceptance of limited proxy parental consent for infant male circumcision that does not exist for tattooing because the probability of a medical need for circumcision is not equal to zero. But when the surgery is unnecessary to the child’s health, circumcision is the same violation, a permanent change to the child’s body without his consent. The disparity in protecting the rights of children is obvious and inexcusable.

For a few opinions on this story, read through the mind-numbing comments at Momania, Theresa Walsh Giarrusso’s blog hosted at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Is it informed to have an opinion no deeper than “what we do is good, what we don’t do is bad”?

Do you feel safe?

Cato @ Liberty links to a legislative proposal that wouldn’t be necessary in a reasonable world:

H.R. 2464, introduced yesterday, would prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from giving advance notice to security screeners when they are going to be covertly tested.

Does it need saying that tipping off screeners undermines the value of testing? Does TSA need a law to make it not do that?

I already had a low opinion of TSA, so this is more palm-to-the-forehead than surprise. Still, this is ridiculous. Can anyone think of a reason other than pure institutional – TSA and Congressional – incompetence for why the TSA situation is this way?

Where does the comparison fail?


Police say 26-year-old Enrique Gonzalez held the boy while another gang member tattooed his right hip. …

Gonzalez has been booked into the Fresno County Jail on suspicion of child abuse, mayhem, false imprisonment and a host of crimes with gang enhancements.

The (alleged) actions of the father are wrong, a conclusion virtually everyone will agree upon. Society is correct in prosecuting this as child abuse.

Yet, society’s laws also allege that parents have an unquestionable right to circumcise their (male) children – a permanent change to the child’s body – based only on a parental conclusion that some social benefit might exist for the child. We are not to judge those family decisions (on boys only, remember) made for subjective reasons.

Joel Stein satirized this mentality in a recent issue of Time when he wrote that “circumcision is something the U.S. does and Europe doesn’t and is therefore awesome.” Stein used this as a tongue-in-cheek way to introduce his skepticism on the issue. It wasn’t funny because he recognized the violation of circumcision and still forced it on his son, but the attempt at humor was obvious. Someone like Dr. Edgar Schoen uses this same faux-patriotism in his books as an excuse to continue parental choice on infant male circumcision for social reasons without noticing the absurdity of this forced inclusion. The law sides with Schoen’s stupidity on infant male¹ circumcision, which raises the question: How is tattooing a child any different than forcing unnecessary surgery on him?

The law permits parents to have no reason, but “like father, like son” is among the non-medical excuses most commonly provided. The medical community pushes this and few question it. Presumably the child in the news story above would’ve experienced greater acceptance and status among his father’s peer group² by having the tattoo. Why is one ethical framework applicable in one scenario and inapplicable in an analogous scenario, if not to cherry-pick for outcome? Because one violation is uncommon and the other is practiced more than one million times each year? Because one leaves a mark accepted by most while the other leaves a mark shunned by most? I’m curious to know because the answer isn’t logical.

None of these possible exemptions satisfies the primary ethical flaw in either violation. The act is forced upon the child without his consent. Necessity requires an acceptance of limited proxy parental consent for infant male circumcision that does not exist for tattooing because the probability of a medical need for circumcision is not equal to zero. But when the surgery is unnecessary to the child’s health, circumcision is the same violation, a permanent change to the child’s body without his consent. The disparity in protecting the rights of children is obvious and inexcusable.

¹ The law explicitly forbids this nonsense for female genital cutting, which is informative and worth exploring until the law changes. But it is beyond the scope necessary for this blog entry.

² It’s also possible to make a reasonable comparison here to the locker room theory used to justify circumcising male children.

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.

He Cares So You Don’t Have To

I suspect that President Obama’s selection of Dr. Thomas R. Frieden for director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be sold as a limited need to scale up to the needs of the nation from his current position as New York City health commissioner. It’s more likely because Dr. Frieden is inclined to further the state’s intrusion into personal choices:

Dr. Alfred Sommer, emeritus dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was on the team that recommended Dr. Frieden as New York’s health chief in 2002, recalled interviewing him shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Dr. Frieden had flown to New York from India, where he was living and working on tuberculosis control.

Before he left India, he was asked about his top priority, Dr. Sommer said. “Oh, well, that’s easy, Al,” Dr. Sommer recalled him replying. “Tobacco. Tobacco is killing more people, and that’s my top priority.”

“Tom, I don’t disagree that tobacco is a real scourge, but have you heard of 9/11?” Dr. Sommer said he countered.

“Of course I know about that, but bioterrorists are not going to kill more New Yorkers than tobacco is,” Dr. Frieden said.

Dr. Frieden’s efforts to ban smoking and trans fats in restaurants, to require calorie counts on menus and to restrict sodium don’t offer much hope that he’ll fill the role responsibly, with respect for the voluntary choices of individuals.

Previous entries on Dr. Frieden here and here.

Immigration Laws Are Too Strict

Classically Liberal discusses a New York Times article on a decline in illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States. I can’t say it better, so here’s the whole thing:

Doesn’t the anti-immigration lobby find this curious? Under their theory of immigration these people should still be coming to the United States at the same pace as before. The anti-immigration crowd argues that immigrants are only coming to America to “get on welfare” and “live off the taxpayer.” Did someone abolish the American welfare state when I wasn’t looking?

Nope, it’s still there. What has changed is that lots of jobs have disappeared. With fewer and fewer jobs the immigrants are not coming in. Since welfare remains, since the “free” health care remains, since the public schools remain, then the this sharp downturn in immigration is a very, very strong indication that most immigrants come to America to work, not to live off welfare. I fear that the tendency to sponge off the state is a habit that is indulged in more by the native born than by migrants.

This is not proof, of course, but it is a logical first step in exposing the xenophobia embedded in most arguments against immigration.

Institutionalized Bigotry and Unintended Consequences

Heather MacDonald seems to accept that marriage equality is inevitable. That won’t stop her from trying to delay it as long as possible with incoherent theories. Several paragraphs into her essay, she writes:

If the black illegitimacy rate were not nearly three times the rate of whites’, I would have few qualms about gay marriage. Or if someone can guarantee that widespread gay marriage would not further erode the expectation among blacks that marriage is the proper context for raising children, I would also not worry. But no one can make that guarantee.

I’m calling bullshit on the first sentence, but it gets worse, so I’ll move on.

Why might it further depress the black marriage rate? There is a logical reason and a visceral reason. First, it sends the signal that marriage is simply about numbers: it is an institution that binds two (for the moment) people who are in love. It erases completely the significance that marriage is THE context in which the children of biological parents should be raised. And there are undoubtedly many other subtle meanings and effects of gay marriage that we cannot even imagine at the moment—which institutional shift is something that conservatives should be most attuned to.

She is not proposing laws to limit marriage to those heterosexual couples who can and will reproduce biologically, so there is no point here other than to deny individuals their rights based on their sexuality. But she can’t say that because she’s trying to appear concerned about society. To sell that facade, she can’t acknowledge that prior concerns about same-sex marriage have already been faced in several states and shown to be nothing but irrationalities.

As for the visceral reason: It is no secret that resistance to homosexuality is highest among the black population (though probably other ethnic minorities are close contenders). I fear that it will be harder than usual to persuade black men of the obligation to marry the mother of their children if the inevitable media saturation coverage associates marriage with homosexuals. Is the availability of homosexual marriage a valid reason to shun the institution? No, but that doesn’t make the reaction any less likely.

She is saying that black men are most likely to be bigoted about gays, a claim she does not support with evidence. It’s possible that it’s true, but she’s asking the reader to accept her premise on nothing more than her dubious claim that “it is no secret.” That is not a basis for restricting civil rights.

She then implies that we should cater to those who are bigots because changing their opinion might be difficult. I’d ask why this is so, but I’m more interested in how it’s relevant? Person A is stupid, thus Person B must be denied? That’s silly. We must reject the suggestion that a bigot’s opinion is pertinent to a discussion about the partnership of two consenting adults.

Worse, she expects us to base our laws on what she fears, not what she can prove. She is the arbiter and provides no evidence to suggest her fears may be realized. I’m not reassured.

Worst, she theorizes that black men may decide that marriage is a gay institution because of the media’s coverage of this cultural shift. She’s throwing out ideas to see what sticks. She is not a serious person.

Link via Radley Balko.