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“Medical Child Abuse”and Child Custody Implications

As highlighted by the New York Times, there is a radical new charge being made against parents who, doctors claim, provide excessive medical treatment to their children, and it is, in some instances, affecting child custody decisions. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of a child’s parents disagreeing with the child’s doctor and, as a result, being reported to child welfare services. As such, it is important for parents to be aware of it.

Origins: Munchausen Syndrome

The concept of medical child abuse stems from a condition labeled in the late 1970s known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition that supposedly caused a parent to induce illness in their child for attention. However, as doctors became more and more skeptical of the existence of Munchausen syndrome over time, they encouraged more of a focus on whether or not a child had received unnecessary and potentially harmful care by a parent, which included unnecessary medicine or tests that could have poor side effects. This overtreatment was automatically labeled “medical child abuse” and lumped in with other types of child abuse.

Is Medical Disagreement Considered Child Abuse?

Unfortunately, this emphasis on only looking at whether a child received unnecessary medical treatment automatically omitted the ability to distinguish between children who were actually sick and receiving unnecessary care from children who were never sick in the first place, leading to an inordinate number of parents accused of suspected medical child abuse (which, according to those investigate the cases, actually rarely turns out to be the case).

This has also, arguably, led to an automatic assumption that if a child received medical attention that was unnecessary (from a doctor’s point of view), this necessarily meant there had been child abuse. As evident, there has been an alarming rise in medical child abuse charges, particularly for children suffering from rare diseases. Even doctors themselves are commenting on how many parents have been wrongly charged when their children suffer from particular diseases.

For example, these are the warning signs provided for detecting medical child abuse:

  • A highly attentive parent;
  • Who is unusually reluctant to leave their child’s side;
  • Who demands second and third opinions;
  • And is not relieved or reassured when they see negative test results;
  • Who resists having a child discharged from the hospital; and/or
  • Who has unusually detailed medical knowledge.

In fact, these characteristics could describe any well-intentioned parent concerned about a sick child.

In addition, medical issues and treatments can, in reality, be extremely complicated, as doctors will, of course, often disagree with each other regarding the proper course of medical care for a given patient; one may determine that something is unnecessary, with the other deeming it vital.

Custody Implications

In some instances, medical disagreement is being transformed into child abuse charges and affecting custody. When parents disagree with a doctor’s prognosis, hospitals have gone so far as to contact child protection and assert that parents are harmfully interfering with their child’s care. In addition, judges will sometimes side with the hospital, taking custody away from the parents and instead forcing a child into state custody.

Contact Us for Assistance with Child Custody

If you are experiencing child custody issues or seeking parental rights, we can help you through the process. Contact Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale to schedule a consultation. We will help ensure that your family’s interests and rights are protected.

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