MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The three-year old Noah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a blood cancer with a very good prognosis when treated (~85% of all children affected can be completely cured and expect to live a normal life). The child was admitted to hospital and, initially, chemotherapy was started. But the treatment was not finished, because the parents took their child home prematurely. The mother, a 22-year-old ‘holistic birth attendant’, had been against conventional treatments from the start. She nevertheless agreed to the first two rounds of chemotherapy — “because they can get a medical court order to force you to do it anyways for a child with his diagnosis”.

Noah’s parent treated their sons with a number of home remedies:

  • Rosemary,
  • colloidal silver,
  • Reishi mushroom tea,
  • Apricot seeds,
  • and other forms of SCAM.

After the child had gone missing, the police issued an alert:

“On April 22, 2019 the parents failed to bring in the child to a medically necessary hospital procedure. The parents have further refused to follow up with the life saving medical care the child needs.”

In a matter of hours, the parents and their child were found. Noah was then taken from his parents and was “now being medically treated,” the sheriff’s office stated. The parents, meanwhile, were being investigated on suspicion of child neglect.

They insist that they were merely trying to give their son alternative medical care, accusing the police and medical officials of stripping them of the right to choose their own treatment plan for their son. Their supporters call the state’s decision to take custody of Noah a “medical kidnapping”. Medical kidnapping is defined as the State taking away children from their parents so that the children can receive medical or surgical care which the parents would otherwise not allow to be administered.

“We’re not trying to refuse any kind of treatment,” the parents told reporters. “They think we’re refusing treatment all around, putting him in danger, trying to kill him. But not at all. We’re trying to save him.” An organization fighting on behalf of the parents, the Florida Freedom Alliance, which also supports “vaccine freedom,” argues that the couple should be entitled to “medical freedom” and freedom from “medical kidnappings.”

Who is right and who is wrong?

Are medical kidnappings legal?

I am, of course, not sure about the legalities. But I am fairly certain about the evidence in the above case:

  1. Noah’s condition is treatable, and in all likelihood he would be cured, if treated according to current oncological standards. This view was also confirmed by the oncologist who is in charge of treating him in hospital.
  2. None of the treatments mentioned by the parents are effective. In fact, alternative cancer cures are a myth; they do not exist and they will never exist. Once a treatment shows promise, it would be scientifically investigated. And, if the results are positive, it would become mainstream quicker than I can climb a tree.

Ethically Noah’s case could not be clearer: the child’s life must be saved, whether with the support of his parents or not. However strongly parents might feel about their under-age kids’ care, they do not own their children and must not be allowed to cause them significant harm.

15 Responses to ‘Medical kidnapping’, right or wrong?

  • It is quite clear that this is child abuse and the parents’ beliefs do not in any way excuse it, any more than they would if they were mentally ill or members of a cult. The rights of parents are not unlimited in most legal systems and whatever the reason the parents were in breach of their duty of care.

    This sort of situation needs to be handled sensitively, but acute leukaemia progresses very quickly and any delay or interruption in treatment can seriously affect the outcome. Criminalising the parents is not necessarily going to help the situation (though it is essential to ascertain the circumstances) and support from Social Services is likely to be more useful than a conviction for child neglect. Calling this medical kidnapping isn’t going to help either.

    I have had a look at what the Florida Freedom Alliance has to say about the case (https://floridafreedomalliance.org/noah/?fbclid=IwAR2Z1C48RY8BfpE9JEcS_2jL_OshAatYMr4NXqAHDTmFmfeCxlgid9D2rVU). Apart from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors they clearly do not understand the behaviour of acute leukaemia. The fact that the malignant cells are no longer visible in the child’s blood means that he is responding well to treatment so far, not that he is cancer-free yet.

    They also do not seem to understand that rights do not exist until they are granted by law, and that with rights come responsibilities.

    According to their Facebook page: “Our goal is to bring together organizations fighting for individual freedoms under one, large united front.” It is not very clear which freedoms these are.

    Where does the Florida Freedom Alliance draw the line? Would they regard it acceptable for parents to keep their children away from school? To keep them locked in a cellar? To keep them as slaves? To use them for human sacrifice? What about the right to kill a daughter who has brought shame upon the family by being raped?

    • thank you!
      I am bracing myself for furious responses from people who disagree with me, and your expert views are therefore most helpful.

  • Both “medical freedom” and “medical kidnapping” are buzzwords fabricated by those who promote alternative medicine. They have no distinct meaning in U.S. law.

  • In spite of my distaste for chemo, if the 85% complete cure rate with normal life is accurate and reliable, I would opt for the chemo treatment. No alternative treatment surpasses that outcome.

    Here is the question to be considered.
    At what point does the state loose the right to mandate what parents must do ? In my view, it’s a slippery slope. Once the state begins mandates, they will continue to take more ground from parents going forward. Where will the line be finally drawn ?

    • “No alternative treatment surpasses that outcome. ”
      true, yet odd!
      no alternative treatment has been shown to positively change the natural history of any cancer.

      • Mr. Edzard

        You will notice I qualified my endorsment with “if the 85% complete cure rate with normal life is accurate and reliable”

        While I have no reason to immidiatly question the statistic, I have my doubts until I put forth DD. Do I beleive that if studies were done on young children with alternative treatments they could achieve a 85% response rate…. yes.

        As you know, we don’t have statistics from studies that support alternative methods. How convienient that is for the Medical Industry. It must be nice to have a strong wind blowing at their backs. Billions of dollars to support studies that confirm the “science” needed to sell more therapies to make more studies. I liken it to the wind blowing at the backs of liberals from the liberal biased media here in the US. At least 85% of the media is biased towards liberal policies and liberal candidates…. must be nice. It makes it very difficult for the other opinion to win much ground.

        • you really do not know what you are talking about
          1) Edzard is my first name; you can call me Edzard, if you want but not Mr Edzard
          2) Medline lists currently 22361 articles on CAM
          3) Alt med is also an industry [Boiron’s turnover last year, for instance, was > 600 000 000 Euros, and they are not the biggest player]
          4) the evidence shows that the use of alt med for cancer shortens patients’ lives

        • ” You will notice I qualified my endorsment with “if the 85% complete cure rate with normal life is accurate and reliable” ”
          Some of us are old enough to remember when acute leukaemia was rapidly and universally fatal. While my expertise is in adult oncology rather than paediatric haematological malignancies I have no reason to doubt this statistic.

          “Do I beleive that if studies were done on young children with alternative treatments they could achieve a 85% response rate…. yes.”
          Really? Since the evidence is not there this is simply a proclamation of faith. Though I think you should ask yourself whether the doctors treating childhood leukaemia wouldn’t enthusiastically seize the opportunity to avoid the unpleasantness and hazards of chemotherapy if such an alternative really existed. Although most of cancer research is aimed at understanding cancer and developing more effective treatments, in those areas where effective treatment exists there is a lot of research into how to reduce toxicity.

          “As you know, we don’t have statistics from studies that support alternative methods. How convienient that is for the Medical Industry”
          By definition, alternative methods are the ones for which evidence has not been found supporting them. When the evidence is there, they stop being alternative.

          ” Billions of dollars to support studies that confirm the “science” needed to sell more therapies to make more studies. ”
          I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what medical research is. It is to find out things that we don’t know, not to confirm what we know already.

          ” At least 85% of the media is biased towards liberal policies and liberal candidates…. must be nice. It makes it very difficult for the other opinion to win much ground.”
          I’m not sure that I follow what you are getting at here. I thought liberal policies and politicians were generally less in favour of large business than the conservatives are. You seem to be contradicting yourself here.

    • “At what point does the state loose the right to mandate what parents must do ? In my view, it’s a slippery slope. ”
      The same can be said of any laws. That’s why I am glad to be living in a democracy rather than a totalitarian state.

  • You simply cannot let parents endanger the life of a child, no matter how well-intentioned they might be. As Dr. Julian Money-Kyrle suggests, put another way, the parents could be cult members—and believe wholeheartedly that what they are doing is right. But that doesn’t excuse this abuse (what else can you call it?).

    More importantly, Edzard, the next time you climb a tree, I’d like to be there.

  • Can I make a new Internet law? Christine Rose’s law?

    It is impossible to distinguish the best of intentions from malice.

    Corollary–it is impossible to distinguish a parent who sincerely believes in unproven and improbable medical cures from some one who wants to murder their child.

    I came up with this one from sad personal experience.

  • I think the attitudes and behaviors of many alties towards their children would be entirely at home on r/raisedbynarcissists.

    One of the state’s roles is to protect its citizens (especially vulnerable ones), including from each other. It—rightly—doesn’t hesitate to shut down parents who believe that sex with their offspring is perfectly acceptable, so why should it pull its punches when dealing with parents whose beliefs will kill theirs?

    Sure there are plenty ways in which a state can cause more problems than it solves through authoritarian overreach or misplaced do-goodery (e.g. children already close to legal adulthood are a particularly sticky case), but killing young kids doesn’t even come close to “grey area”.

    Still, if the Freedum lobby wants to belabor the point, why not offer them the choice? Follow the best agreed standard of medical care, or go away and do your own thing; but if you choose the latter and your child dies, you serve 10 years for criminally negligent manslaughter. Wonder how many would still put their self-serving beliefs first when their own skins are so clearly on the line.

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