A Missouri lawmaker says he wants to protect parents’ rights to make medical decisions for their children, but critics say his bill could leave children in danger of being abused with no legal way to stop it.
House Bill 217 sponsored by Representative Ken Wilson (R-Smithville) would bar the charging of a parent or legal guardian with child abuse or neglect if he or she has sought and is following the course of treatment for a child outlined by a medical or mental health provider, and would bar the reporting of possible abuse based on the parent or guardian’s decision to follow such a course of treatment.
The is being called “Isaiah’s Law,” for Isaiah Rider, a 17-year-old from Kansas City whose mother, Michelle, said he was taken from her because she sought a second opinion for treatment of his pain resulting from neurofibromatosis.
Rider said Isaiah has been removed from her for nearly a year and she has never been charged with a crime.
“I requested a second opinion. I wanted him transferred, I wanted different care for him,” Rider told Missourinet. “They said that was interfering, but that was interfering with what they wanted, but we as parents have rights to decide the best care for our children.”
Wilson agrees with Rider, and said his bill aims to protect parents’ right to determine how their children are cared for.
“This isn’t dreamed up,” said Wilson. “Parents are losing custody of their children based upon someone’s interpretation, someone’s opinion, without fully being vetted, and that’s just wrong.”
Kansas City Attorney Shelley Patterson told lawmakers she represents clients who have had their children unjustly taken away having been accused of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, in which a caregiver makes up, causes, or exaggerates a medical condition in someone in his or her care.
“This is a system where they have far too much power and far too little oversight, and something needs to be done,” Patterson testified. “This is happening all over the country.”
Critics say the bill goes too far, would upend Missouri laws against child abuse and would even legalize some forms of abuse.
“I think that it is true that there are cases where children are removed from parents when they shouldn’t be,” said Deputy Director of Missouri KidsFirst Emily van Schenkhof, who says there are changes that would benefit the system. “Respectfully, though, I don’t think this legislation is the way to do it because there would be so much tremendous collateral consequences to children that absolutely are being hurt.”
Doctor James Anderst with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City told the committee the bill would allow abuse to continue when a parent is, whether deliberately or not, choosing the wrong treatment regimen.
“If a child has, say, leukemia, leukemia is curable in most children,” said Anderst. “If a parent instead of getting their child treated by an oncologist, somebody with expertise in treating childhood leukemia, decides to have their child’s leukemia treated by a psychologist, who has no knowledge or skill in leukemia, this would legalize that. How would we speak for the child? That would be a death sentence for the child when they could have an 80-percent chance of living.”
Van Schenkhof and Wilson both told Missourinet they would work with one another on the issues, but van Schenkhof says she doesn’t see a way to change Wilson’s bill to make it work.
“For me and for my agency, things that inhibit reporting, things that tell people not to report child abuse, those are non-negotiable issues for us,” said van Schenkhof. “We do not see any way to make this bill a safe bill … I think that we have to look at other structural issues, other ways to come at the problem.”
The chair of the House committee that heard the bill, Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), told Missourinet she has no immediate plan to bring the bill up for a vote.