Spying on Students in Pennsylvania

For a brief summary:

The FBI is investigating a Pennsylvania school district accused of secretly activating webcams inside students’ homes, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press on Friday.

The school district has acknowledged that each student’s school-issued computer has software that allows the district to access it remotely, including the ability to capture images. My guess is that, in the case of the student who’s parents have sued, the alleged image was likely something the student downloaded and the school saw on his hard drive. If I’m right, it’s still creepy, but (momentarily) relegates to possibility the theories that the school captured images of naked students.

Since the privacy implications must still be considered, the article includes commentary from privacy experts. The experts aren’t quoted as saying anything surprising. The reporter offers a different perspective in her transition:

The Pennsylvania case shows how even well-intentioned plans can go awry if officials fail to understand the technology and its potential consequences, privacy experts said. Compromising images from inside a student’s bedroom could fall into the hands of rogue school staff or otherwise be spread across the Internet, they said.

Which school officials would not be ‘rogue’ if such pictures fell in their hands? I take the implication that somehow there are school staff members who should be legitimately authorized to see such pictures, that some spying is appropriate. I’m sure that’s lazy writing rather than a disturbing lack of skepticism of authority. But someone obviously authorized the installation of this software and didn’t notify the students or their parents that it was included. I always assume stupidity first, if it’s possible, but it would be unwise to rule out an conscious disregard for civil liberties.

(They’re children, after all. They have no rights at school or away from school if school officials deem those rights an impediment to order.)

Correlation Still Does Not Equal Causation

Nancy Pelosi’s office blogged about the Department of Labor’s latest jobs report. This graph is included in the brief entry:


From this, Rep. Pelosi declares:

Today’s jobs report marks a welcome step in the right direction for our economy and our families: the unemployment rate is going down. The Recovery Act, which Congress passed one year ago to pull our economy back from the brink of collapse, has already created or saved nearly 2 million jobs so far.

Yet our work is far from over. This recession that President Obama inherited has taken the worst toll on our job market since World War II. Too many workers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Leaders of both parties must work together to keep our recovery on track by helping small businesses create jobs, investing in our infrastructure and clean energy industries, and keeping police, firefighters, and teachers on the job. Congress will continue to act to build a new foundation for long-term prosperity.

I see the correlation I’m supposed to perceive, but that doesn’t prove what Rep. Pelosi expects me to assume, that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the reason the graph looks as it does. It’s easy to claim success when you establish superficial results as the standards for success. If she’s going to make this claim, she must defend it with specific details about how money was spent and how that improved the jobs situation. Saying it isn’t enough if you’re skeptical of power rather than merely skeptical of your ideological opponents.

(Via Irene retweeting Markos Moulitsas)

Why I Skim The Daily Dish

I still have Andrew Sullivan’s blog in my RSS reader, but only as a way to stay informed on what’s happening. Most days I only skim it, not carefully. Where he used to be open to questions, however scattered he may have bounced around on his emotional responses, now he usually exhibits a single with-me-or-against-me attitude. In anticipation of Brown’s victory in yesterday’s special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy, Sullivan wrote (emphasis in original):

The second explanation is the Brooks/Noonan theory that somehow everything feels wrong to the Independent or conservative-leaning voters. They have an instinctual fear of more government and, even though the Senate bill couldn’t be more minimalist within the confines of expanding access and controlling costs, this gnaws at them. I think this is a legitimate feeling (I have it too) – but an illegitimate argument.

Look: the markets conservatives have believed in have failed.

As the more honest conservatives (Greenspan, Posner, Bartlett) have noted, the financial crisis was a clear indicator that we need a more active and vigilant government in regulating the financial sector. And when you look at the results of America’s hybrid and dysfunctional healthcare system, it is more than clear that the status quo is unsustainable. Yes, this system has pioneered amazing breakthroughs and a pharmaceutical revolution that has transformed lives. But the cost and inefficiency of this is simply staggering. Look at the graph above. If you think it’s great, support the GOP. They don’t want to change anything, but a few tweaks.

Which part of America’s hybrid and dysfunctional health care system proves that the market has failed? It’s an interesting claim, but it’s not an argument. It’s a silly analysis of what the market should provide and how much it should cost. There’s nothing objective here. There’s only the expectation that we all agree that the government is the only way to fix the market failure of our hybrid health care system. As he writes later in his post:

At least Obama seems interested in government. The GOP seems interested only in politics and rhetoric that can sustain the bubble of deep denial they live in.

Obama and the rest of the Democrats are interested in government as the solution, which is the wrong approach. It’s easy to suggest that government will be reformed in the process, but that’s a rather nonsensical assurance when the problem is systemic in our interest-driven political system. Wishful thinking will not stop the flow of special handouts and exemptions that result with government involvement.

There’s a complex case to be debated, which hasn’t happened because it’s easier to spew anecdotes as universal fact. It’s easier to write “…Tea Partiers are just opposing the working poor having a chance to buy health insurance,” as Sullivan wrote in November, than it is to confront a group’s objections. In fairness, Sullivan has questioned what Republicans would do instead. But assuming indifference and malice in the face of silence is unhelpful speculation.

This is not to endorse the Republican approach. I find the party to be devoid of any value, which is to say I hold Democrats and Republicans in equal esteem. Nor am I endorsing Senator-elect Brown as a beacon of principled leadership newly arrived in Washington. From the little I’ve read, he’s more of the same, defending torture by the American government, for example. But him not having a coherent or satisfactory answer on the current Senate and House health care bills does not equate with there being no coherent or satisfactory rebuttals to the current bills. As Mark at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen wrote:

It is increasingly frustrating to me that, for many supporters of Obama, any belief that the existing health care reform bills will do more harm than good is automatically written off as being in bad faith or, as it were, “nihilistic.”

I believe I’ve advocated here that any health care reform aimed at reducing costs must start with untangling health care from employment. An individual’s employer is no more responsible for her health than it is for insuring her automobile or home. It’s a holdover from the ridiculous tax rates of the World War II-era, where offering health insurance as an employment benefit was economically wise. Rather than fix the rates, government enshrined the concept in tax law. That was stupid, but it worked when people worked at a single company for life. Today it’s uncommon to have had only a single employer by age 30. If we don’t fix that broken government-provided incentive, we’ll continue to have people lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs.

The current legislation keeps that tie, but punishes indiscriminately for receiving “too much” of a benefit. That’s just doubling down on the madness of the past, thinking that government can fix what government broke by adding more government. It’s the nonsensical thinking of the central planner, the kind who believes that anything that isn’t what it should be in a hybrid market is clear proof that the market has failed, requiring more of the planner’s expertise.

To show that other ideas exist, Megan McArdle offers her suggestion:

Raise the Medicare tax by half a percentage point, and eliminate the tax-deductibiity of health insurance benefits for people making more than $150K a year in household income, $100K for singles. Then make the federal government the insurer of last resort. Any medical expenses more than 15% or 20% of household income, get picked up by Uncle Sam.

I’m not a fan of this because it still messes with the tax code, encouraging employers and employees to tinker with non-cash compensation for borderline salaries. Other people may want that approach, but I’d rather have cash and make my own decisions. Social engineering is not good. For example, a $100k threshold means different realities in D.C. versus Omaha. It’s a lot of money either way, but that punishes people unfairly in areas with a higher cost of living. The tax code would need to be more complicated to rectify this problem, which proves the need to simplify away from government trying to influence “correct” decisions.

That said, I’m willing to consider it as an opening to ridding the tax code of the health insurance exemption.

So, alternative ideas clearly exist. But it’s easier for Sullivan to vent, lumping everyone who disagrees with him into a tidy, immature opposition. In a later post yesterday, he wrote in a post titled “A Libertarian Revolt?” (emphasis in original):

Since so much of the energy behind the Brown candidacy seems to be driven by anti-government sentiment, why is someone like me – who actually criticized Bush for being big government long before these late-comers – so dismayed?

Here’s why. The rage is adolescent. It did not exist when the Republicans were in power and exploded government during years of economic growth. Fox News backed Bush to the hilt through it all, as he added mounds of unfunded entitlements to the next generation’s debt, and then brought Beck in as soon as Obama inherited the mess. Scott Brown, moreover, has no plans to cut the debt or control government: none. He is running in d
efense of every cent in Medicare. He wants to increase the deficit by more tax cuts. He favors an all-powerful executive branch that can suspend habeas corpus and torture people. He has no intention of cutting defense. His position on the uninsured is: get your own states to help. His position on soaring healthcare costs is: stop the first attempt to control them.

We hear Karl Rove lamenting big government! We hear Dick Cheney worrying about deficits! The cynicism here is gob-smacking. And the libertarian right is just happy to go along.

Like I said, I don’t endorse Brown for these reasons. If I lived in Massachusetts, I wouldn’t have voted for him or Coakley in yesterday’s election. So why am I lumped into the nihilist group because I’m a libertarian who thinks the current health care bills would cause harm to the nation? Sullivan is aware enough to understand that Libertarians ≠ Republicans, yet he pretends they’re synonymous without looking at what libertarians offer because both groups oppose the solution he wants. It’s unfair to rant incomprehensibly against something that is clearly untrue. One might say it’s adolescent, which is why The Daily Dish is no longer must reading for me.

Our Security Makes Me Afraid


The man who is believed to have slipped into a secured area of Newark Liberty International Airport and to have caused a six-hour shutdown of a major terminal on Sunday has been arrested, Port Authority officials said on Friday night.

Mr. [Haisong] Jiang’s arrest [on a charge of defiant trespass] came a day after a video showing security footage of the incident was released by Mr. Lautenberg. It shows a man in a light-colored jacket standing near where arriving passengers exit a secured part of the airport. When a security guard leaves his post, the man embraces a woman and slips across the rope into the secured part of the terminal. The two then walk away together.

I don’t have much to say on the facts of the case. I haven’t seen the video, so I can’t decide whether or not the Mr. Jiang’s alleged actions were intentional. Instead, I want to comment on this:

The security guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday, and he faces disciplinary action, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Derrick F. Thomas, a national vice president with union representing the guard, told The A.P. that the guard has “been rated a model employee.”

While in high school, I worked at a drug store. One day, the assistant manager in charge of the store during my shift left for approximately 30 minutes to run personal errands. She left a senior clerk in charge. If my memory is correct, that clerk was a high school student like me. Nothing occurred at the store during her absence. The next time I reported to work, I learned the manager had fired the assistant manager for her action.

If secure restricted areas of an airport demands attention and scrutiny to each individual entering, as we’re told it does, what’s less severe here than what occurred at a drug store twenty years ago that makes administrative leave appropriate rather than immediate dismissal?

My initial conclusion is to accept the obvious distinction. The drug store was a private enterprise. The TSA is a government entity. The former requires accountability. The latter can’t. I’m inclined to be skeptical of this conclusion, since I don’t wish to be an ideologue. Then I read this (via KipEsquire):

A bystander waiting for an arriving passenger noticed the breach and told the guard. TSA officials then discovered that surveillance cameras at the security checkpoint had not recorded the breach and were forced to consult backup security cameras operated by Continental Airlines.

There could be any number of issues why such a lapse might occur, technical or otherwise. None of them are acceptable. This is security theater, not security. And we’re doubling down on our stupidity with every new, predictable incident.

Just Wait Until Government Gets Involved

I’ve mentioned a few times in my Twitter feed that I started playing hockey this fall for the first time. I’ve played a handful of games already, sustaining some form of injury in more than half of them. It hasn’t deterred me because I’ve discovered a love for the game. Unfortunately, though, my latest injury may be something more than a nagging reflection of my out-of-shape 36-year-old body. I fell in my most recent game, landing awkwardly on my wrist and hand. It’s now stiff, swollen and a strange shade of orange. After a few days, I finally acknowledged that machismo isn’t the best way to deal with it. So, today I went to the doctor.

I had to answer biographical questions with no bearing on getting an x-ray. I had to provide a photo id to be scanned, allegedly to prevent insurance fraud, as required by federal law. My doctor had to give me a prescription for extra-strength Advil, which I declined, if I wanted to take one pill instead of several. I’m sure there were other laws being followed that did not add to my medical care. What will it be like when the government gets involved?

When I get the bill for my doctor’s consultation and the x-ray services, I will be responsible for 100% of it in my high deductible health insurance plan because I haven’t met my deductible. I find that acceptable because I intentionally signed up for my plan. The deductible matches the cumulative annual premium for my previous policy. What will happen to my preferred plan since it is unlikely to include what Congress decides I need because it doesn’t provide a full range of services included for “free”?

The key, though, is my ability to get the care I needed. I scheduled my appointment yesterday afternoon, saw my doctor this morning, and got x-rays taken on a walk-up outpatient basis immediately after that. I’ll know tomorrow whether I’ve fractured anything. I have no doubt that I’ll be able to quickly receive any additional treatment I may need. Our current medical system costs money, but that timeline is not free. Congress is too far removed from individuals to determine that the trade-off between those two is incorrectly balanced. I doubt it cares. The potential outcome concerns me.

Single-Payer and Circumcision in America

In my second response to Hanna Rosin’s posts on circumcision at The Daily Dish, I closed with this:

As a circumcised male, why do I care whether circumcision is mandated by the government or merely by my parents? The result – forced circumcision – is the same for me. Basically, Rosin engages in the “if you don’t like circumcision, don’t circumcise your son” defense. This is wrong. The case against circumcision centers on the boy as a (healthy) human being, not the boy as a son of parents making a choice.

This is the core of the ethical refutation of prophylactic infant male circumcision. Proxy consent cannot be justified on any grounds because the surgery is unnecessary, permanent, and carries an inherent risk of damage beyond what is deemed acceptable. On the last point, remember that no one considers the boy’s potential future disagreement with society’s definition of acceptable.

Ms. Rosin’s passage that prompted my comment involved the question of government-mandated circumcision. The CDC is not recommending that, of course. My point stands because, to the circumcised child, an influenced decision is no better than a required non-decision if he does not wish to be circumcised. But it does raise an interesting point for the current debate over health insurance reform that I’ve attempted to make in the past. From Ed Morrissey:

I’m neutral on the issue of circumcision, which has become a controversial practice, but find this idea of interventions very, very odd. In the first place, circumcision does not provide an immunity to STDs, not AIDS or anything else. Studies indicate that circumcised males may have less danger of acquiring an infection, but as the NYT points out, that’s from heterosexual relations — a very minor channel of AIDS communication in the US. Men have much better choices than circumcision for avoiding HIV infection, including the use of condoms (still not a perfect defense, but better than circumcision), refraining from intravenous drug use with shared needles, avoiding high-risk sexual practices altogether, and so on.

Why should the CDC push circumcision at all? The government has no business being in the middle of that decision. Under ObamaCare, however, when the government starts paying more and more of the health-care tab, they will point to ambiguous cost savings down the road — in this and other cases, decades down the road — to pressure Americans into surrendering their choices now. [ed. note: surrendering the choices of their children]

Apart from unnecessarily cluttering the single-payer issue with the “ObamaCare” phrase, this is exactly right, I think. How often do we need to see the public health community ramble on about the cost-benefit analysis “proving” that the net effect of prophylactic infant male circumcision is positive? How many lies pretending that non-essential and non-functional are synonyms will be necessary before we accept that not everyone shares the same view about what individuals should do and have, when those same people so often prove that they mistake their opinion for fact? Those people are at least as likely to make it to positions of power as anyone who considers the child’s lack of need and possible future objections.

It’s useful to highlight that most countries with an explicitly single-payer health care system have infant male circumcision rates that don’t approach 10%. Of course. But we can’t dismiss that the rates are greater than 0%. We must consider why.

I think the question of why narrows to culture. American culture places a high, irrational value on circumcision and its alleged wonders. Whether it’s the perceived health benefits for diseases that are already unlikely in a normal human state or a fear that schoolmates and sexual partners will laugh at him if he’s normal rather than common, we don’t evaluate circumcision factually. Ms. Rosin demonstrated this when she wrote that calling circumcision surgery is “a bit of an exaggeration.” No, it’s not, but our society possesses a strong anti-curiosity attitude on the topic. As Mr. Morrissey noted, the New York Times article provides all the necessary data to show that the CDC’s thinking is irrational. Yet, it’s picked up by people like Ms. Rosin who uncritically regurgitate only the parts they like and declare the resulting subset of findings uncontroversial. This is the low level of discourse in America surrounding circumcision and children.

If America had implemented a single-payer system at the same time England created its system, we could make a one-to-one comparison and the incidence of circumcision today would likely be close. But we didn’t. Instead, we have 60 additional years of circumcision to defend and justify. We have irrational beliefs to refute, should those holding those beliefs be willing to question them. We have a society that “knows” the foreskin is “just a flap of useless skin” and isn’t interested in hearing anything to the contrary, no matter how logical or based in scientific proof. A majority of our society still believes that the individual child is in the care of his parents for his medical decisions without a thought that this non-therapeutic surgical intervention is (social) experimentation, not medical care. The national discussion becomes about what people want to believe, not what is true. Cost is not a primary concern.


Patrick Appel posted the Ed Morrissey link at The Daily Dish, where I found it. Mr. Appel writes:

The CDC is thinking of promoting circumcision, not requiring it. Whether or not you agree with the procedure, this controversy has nothing to do with health care reform. If single-payer leads to more circumcision, then how come America has among the highest rates of circumcised men in the world, much higher than most if not all countries with socialized medicine?

Mr. Appel makes the same mistake. The argument isn’t that single-payer leads to more circumcision. The argument is that American single-payer will not lead to a decrease in male circumcision. Either the system will pay or parents will pay. My view is the former because public health officials invariably think about the public rather than the individuals in the collective and politicians do not have the moral framework to say “no” to the inevitable backlash that would occur. Without legal reform recognizing the same rights for boys that we’ve already codified for girls, circumcision will continue in America, regardless of who pays.

I Do Matthew Yglesias’ Homework

Last week, in a post lamenting the not-odd fact that the words and actions of politicians do not match, Matthew Yglesias wrote this:

My personal feeling, the longer I spend in DC and working in the political domain, is that I get better and better at understanding other people’s ideologies. I also feel that people writing about politics often caricature opponents’ views as part of a rhetorical strategy. But I’ve been back-and-forth on the main issues long enough that I’m pretty sure I could switch this blog’s point of view and do a credible job of offering critiques-from-the-right of the progressive liberal health reform movement and the progressive liberal approach to domestic policy generally. One happy consequence of this is that I find the stubborn persistence of principled disagreement less mystifying than I once did, and have a greater appreciation for what I now think of as a certain irreducibly Kierkegaardian element to ideological commitment that, in turn, helps explain why so many “normal” people have such fuzzy political views.

The words I placed in bold are important to remember while reading an entry Mr. Yglesias posted¹ yesterday (archived version:

There’s lots of great stuff in this Ed Pilkington story about the dark side of free market health care (via Tomasky) but my favorite bit was this part:

Eventually his lack of motor control interfered with his work to the degree that he was forced to give up his practice. He fell instantly into a catch 22 that he had earlier seen entrap many of his own patients: no work, no health insurance, no treatment.

He remained uninsured and largely untreated for his progressively severe condition for the following 11 years. Blood tests that could have diagnosed him correctly were not done because he couldn’t afford the $200. Having lost his practice, he lost his mansion on the hill and now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs. His Porsches have made way for bangers. Many times this erstwhile pillar of the medical establishment had to go without food in order to pay for basic medicines.

This is the kind of thing that makes it so hard for me to take seriously the idea that we can’t have the government give people health care because it might subject them to “rationing.” Depending on the details, it may or may not be correct to believe that any particular government program is being too stingy. But how does giving people nothing at all resolve that problem?

There are two issues here, closely related to Mr. Yglesias’ entry from last week linked above. The initial problem is glaring but only if you follow the link to the Ed Pilkington story. You wouldn’t know this from his excerpt, but the paragraph continues (emphasis mine):

He remained uninsured and largely untreated for his progressively severe condition for the following 11 years. Blood tests that could have diagnosed him correctly were not done because he couldn’t afford the $200. Having lost his practice, he lost his mansion on the hill and now lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the suburbs. His Porsches have made way for bangers. Many times this erstwhile pillar of the medical establishment had to go without food in order to pay for basic medicines. In 2000 Manley finally found the help he needed, at a clinic in Kansas City that acts as a rare safety net for uninsured people. He was swiftly diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a degenerative genetic illness, and now receives regular medical attention through the clinic.

Mr. Yglesias’ excerpt is an incomplete representation of the complex facts, presumably to make the point – a caricature, if you will – that the free market has failed. But has it really failed?

Mr. Manley probably should’ve saved his money for potential later-life crises rather than buying a new Porsche every year, as the article states he did when his practice was strong. That is a relevant point, but it’s little more than a distraction to the real issue underlying Mr. Yglesias’ belief that everyone has an obligation to pay for everyone’s care, especially where the free market (allegedly) fails. Regardless, we have the system we have, not the one either side wishes. It shouldn’t have taken so long for Mr. Manley to receive the care he needed. Stating this needn’t be considered a concession or profound.

What Mr. Pilkington, and subsequently Mr. Yglesias, failed to explore is the care that Mr. Manley eventually received.

[Dr. Sharon] Lee’s clinic, Family Health Care, is a refuge of last resort. It picks up the pieces of lives left shattered by a health system that has failed them, and tries to glue them back together. It exists largely outside the parameters of formal health provision, raising funds through donations and paying all its 50 staff – Lee included – a flat rate of just $12 an hour.

Unlike Mr. Yglesias, I researched Family Health Care. It took approximately 10 minutes. Mr. Manley is getting care thanks to the “dark side of the free market.” Consider the clinic’s financial profile for 2005-2007:

The clinic receives 0% of its funding from government, meaning that the remaining 100% of its budget comes from the bank accounts of individuals, corporations, and non-profit organizations. Where is the free market failure to provide health care to those in need?

The structure of the American health care and insurance system is idiotic and needs reform. We should talk about that. The article even includes anecdotal stories to suggest problems that need to be addressed within the views of each side’s extremes. But presumably that wouldn’t have made the point for Mr. Pilkington or Mr. Yglesias that government needs to step in to protect the poor from the free market’s alleged failures, which are, we are told, ignored by the mean-spirited right-wing capitalist liars opposed to President Obama’s proposal. A neat, tidy box, indeed. That reaches closer to ideological commitment – propaganda, if you will – than journalism.

Update: I’ve struck the reference to propaganda. This isn’t that. Rather, Mr. Yglesias’ ideological commitment is more likely laziness embracing the appearance of victory.

¹ Normally I refuse to reprint an entire entry because links are survival. In this case, I can think of no other way to make my points.

Another Reason I Don’t Live in D.C.

I’ll preface this entry with the update from the article. What the Councilman proposes is – unsurprisingly – not lawful. Maybe that’ll change, maybe not. It should count as an extra strike against the councilman, regardless.

So, the proposal:

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) introduced a resolution today to rename Girard Park in Columbia Heights “Barack Hussein Obama Park.”

The recent renovated park, located at 14th Street and Girard, features a basketball court and play equipment.

“The park is a jewel,” Graham said. “I think the overwhelming point of view that has been expressed is that park should be renamed in honor of our president.”

How many of the idiots who propose (and support) such nonsense complained when Republicans demanded that every structure within the Washington, DC metro area be renamed to honor Reagan when he died? At least those lunatics had the ability to understand that waiting until the man died was necessary. Here, we’re just mythologizing the man with the most influence over ongoing policy. That’s dangerous.

To mock it appropriately, let’s start a Barack Obama Facts meme. I’m not connected to the Internets right now, since President Obama hasn’t gotten around to my right to universal broadband yet, so I can’t check that it doesn’t yet exist. I’m sure it does. Whatever. Here’s my entry:

Barack Obama can visit your park without leaving the White House.

That may not be a joke, so let’s have a care with small-r republicanism, please.

Via DCist.

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?

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.