Chicago residents may have heard of a recent media report concerning a parents’ rights case in Massachusetts involving a female child age 15 in the custody of the Commonwealth after her parents sought treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital for her previously-diagnosed mitochondrial disease that left her barely able to walk or eat. Children’s Hospital believed the child was instead suffering from a psychiatric disorder for which her parents were blocking treatment. The medical diagnosis and treatment were initially rendered by a doctor at Tufts Medical Center, also in Massachusetts.
In December 2013, the parents sued to resume custody. The judge denied their request but ordered judicial review, due in January.
In Massachusetts like other states, child abuse laws establish medical authorities as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. Whether this case involves child abuse is subject to interpretation given that the concept of ‘medical child abuse” is not well understood, referring to what used to be called ‘Munchausen syndrome by proxy” or commonly a parent tricking their child into showing symptoms of a medical condition, thereby exposing the child to unnecessary and frequently invasive therapies. The specifics of this case have not been publicly revealed, so it is only possible to speculate the type and severity of the medical child abuse referenced. Several things are certain: the syndrome is rare but not unheard of and the public is increasingly learning of it, mostly through the media.
Ensuring the best interests of the child is undeniably at the heart of the matter. Otherwise, this is hardly a typical child custody case. Although the duty to protect and prevent child abuse of any form is clear, so too is the legal duty to protect parental rights to raise children. Someone facing charges of medical child abuse or being withheld custody of their child may wish to consult with a family law attorney.
Source: Fox News, “Family battles hospital for custody of daughter in controversial ‘medical child abuse’ case“, December 23, 2013