Parental Rights vs. Protecting Sick Kids A Seattle mother faces kidnapping charges for going into hiding with her seriously ill child to avoid court-ordered surgery; she preferred an alternative, nontraditional treatment. This case and others like it highlight a growing tension between protecting sick children and insuring parental rights.
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Parental Rights vs. Protecting Sick Kids

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Parental Rights vs. Protecting Sick Kids


Parental Rights vs. Protecting Sick Kids

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This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: And I'm Madeleine Brand. Today a Seattle area mother goes back to court on charges she kidnapped her own son. The mother fled a hospital with her baby to avoid unwanted surgery. Well, you might guess that she and the father are either Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses, but they're not. From Seattle Tom Banse reports.

TOM BANSE, reporting:

Tina Carlson has become a minor celebrity of the unwilling kind. In late June the suburban Seattle mother was the subject of a statewide manhunt, that after she smuggled her 9-month-old baby out of the hospital in a diaper bag. Carlson objected to a planned kidney surgery. She wanted to explore less invasive options like naturopathy.

Ms. TINA CARLSON (Mother): It wasn't on purpose. It's not, like I said a thousand times, we're very peaceful people. We just wanted our voice heard. We wanted to get a second opinion, an unbiased second opinion.

BANSE: Carlson was arrested after two days on the run. Her baby boy had surgery on judge's orders shortly after she got out of jail. Baby Riley is now with his father, Todd Rogers.

Mr. TODD ROGERS (Father): Kissy kisses?

(Soundbite of baby)

BANSE: The parents live apart but share frustration.

Mr. ROGERS: It's unfortunate that a medical profession can say, well, we think you need this and so we're just going to court order it. I mean, you know, it would be like a carpenter being able to walk into someone's house and say your roof shingles are bad, you know. I'm going to go get a court order to have you pay me to change your roof shingles.

BANSE: The same week this medical drama unfolded, a Springfield, Oregon, woman went on the lam with her 4-year-old daughter. The mother turned herself in after several days. She explained to the police that she opposed treating her girl's pneumonia with Western medicine. Does that make the mom a criminal?

Dr. DOUG DIEKEMA (Children's Hospital, Seattle): It is a gray line.

BANSE: E.R. doc Doug Diekema sits on the ethics committee at Children's Hospital in Seattle. He says in the U.S. adults can refuse medical treatment. But the courts can step in to protect a vulnerable child.

Dr. DIEKEMA: For me the question is the child - is the parent's decision placing the child at significant risk of serious harm? Doesn't matter why. Doesn't matter if it's because they're Jehovah's Witnesses or because they believe in alternative medicine and not in what I am suggesting, it doesn't matter if they're making what they feel is a very reasoned choice.

BANSE: Diekema says his hospital has found ways to work with Christian Science and Jehovah's Witness families. When there's a clash now, the doctor says more than half the time, it has nothing to do with faith.

Dr. DIEKEMA: They may prefer naturopathy, they may prefer alternative providers, alternative medicine. I get that sense from a lot of people I deal with, that this would be easy if it were a Jehovah's Witness because we know we can override those decisions, that somehow the religious ones are different. It's really not.

BANSE: Still, Diekema says it's very rare that a medical team has to go to court to override a parent's wishes. The president of a patient advocacy and watchdog group in Seattle claims doctors threaten legal action more often than it makes the news. Kelly Meinig explains in the Internet age parents can second-guess a doctor more easily.

Ms. KELLY MEINIG (Patient Advocate): There's a pretty large resistance to overcome, to think that, oh my gosh, they might not know what's best for me and I have to become educated. Some people want that responsibility, some people would rather completely acquiesce that responsibility to somebody else. The question is, they need to have a choice.

BANSE: The latest human drama in this arena is unfolding in coastal Virginia. It adds another wrinkle. The teenage cancer patient has his own opinion about what he wants. For the moment a judge is letting the 16-year-old boy refuse the massive dose of chemo and radiation treatment that doctors insist he needs. For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse in Seattle.

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