Parents Vs. the State
When I wrote about HIV dissidents earlier this week, I ended my post with a postscript that stated I didn't necessarily think legal action should be taken against an HIV-positive mother whose untreated child recently died of AIDS:
As a postscript to this analysis, let me comment on the case as it stands now. Rumor has it that the child’s parents are being investigated with the intention of possibly charging them with a crime for exposing their child to HIV and failing to treat. Most people who have written about this case who also agree with my conclusions support this course of action.
But I think I can, at the very least, make a good argument why this should not happen. In all I have read regarding this case, and from all I have read of Christine Maggiore and her activism, I have seen no evidence that she has an agenda that exceeds advocating for what she finds to be the truth. Also, I choose to believe, until presented with evidence otherwise, that she was a loving mother who is very saddened by the loss of her daughter. Though her beliefs, and the actions that extended from them, may have directly led to the infection of her daughter with HIV, its progression to AIDS, and her death from its complications, I believe the pain that Ms. Maggiore now suffers from the consequences of those beliefs is more than any punishment that she should have to endure.
She shares responsibility in this child’s death. But she was acting in good faith in what she thought was the best interests of her child. I don’t see any crime in that.
Charles Johnson correctly pointed out in the comments that this analysis was incomplete. I purposefully did not flesh out the arguments to make it an airtight (or even good) argument. Thus, I left myself open to criticism of these views; I didn't help by some randomly and thoughtlessly thrown together statement in the comments. So, I expanded the argument in the comments to present the case to the many who disagree with me. He it is:
So a body of scientific evidence exists that comments on the hypothesis that a) HIV causes AIDS and b) drugs that control the virus are beneficial to exposed children. Now, I, and almost everyone else, read that evidence to say that the hypotheses should be accepted. Overwhelmingly. Christine Maggiore does not. It follows from her belief then, that treating her child would be harmful.
If Maggiore is deemed otherwise competent to hold custody of her child, and if she truly believes that a given treatment would harm her, and not help her, then, assuming the mother is acting in good faith in what she perceives as the best interests of her child, I’m not so sure the state should have the authority to intercede.
There is a legitimate argument which states that the scientific evidence for the hypotheses above is so strong, that maybe the state should intercede in the best interests of the child. OK. But one has to acknowledge that there are situations where the evidence is not so strong and the decision that would be “in the best interest of the child” is not so clear. There was a case last year where a local authority tried to press charges of child abuse against a father who refused to put his hyperactive son on Ritalin. Now, that clearly escapes the bound of state authority. But the question becomes: where do you draw the line?
I am, at least, making the case for the argument that maybe it should not be drawn at all. All things considered, I trust parents more to look after the best interests of their children, compared to the state. Now certainly parents can do some extremely evil things, and, clearly, this case turned out for the worst; but I like my rule in general, and would be careful before I went around making exceptions for different diseases.
The cases of failure to treat due to religious concerns are not analogous to this. Stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions and Christian Scientists and cancer treatment do not speak to this argument at all. Not that it would necessarily come to a different conclusion (but I think it does), it just had to b answered separately. One issue accepts the truth of the impact of a treatment on a disease, it just ignores it for religious concerns. The other rejects the beneficence of the treatment altogether.
And that’s the issue at hand. Who is the final arbiter of the conclusions of science as it pertains to a child? The state or the parents? Assuming that the parents are acting in good faith toward what they think are the child’s best interests, I, for now, choose parents.
As an aside: If you disagree, then take it further. Should the state simply dictate guidelines for how pediatricians should treat each child (deferring, of course to the doctors’ best judgment, when necessary)? Why do the docs even ask the parents for permission at all? If the state is the final arbiter of scientific medical evidence, then the treatments should just be mandated, right? I guess permission is asked just because it sounds nice? The language of these questions may sound ridiculous, and I am being a little facetious here, but I think the fundamental questions are legitimate. Not unanswerable for my opponents, but legitimate.
Again, I am not necessarily saying that this case wouldn’t fall behind a line where we have to step in and hold the parents accountable; but for those who are, the burden is on you to state where and how to draw the line, and why it should be drawn there.