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By Daniel Arkin
The decision of the armed police in Arizona to force their way into the home of two parents who had refused to take their feverish young son in a hospital has traveled worrying questions about custody and potential medical neglect, and what some might see as excessive law enforcement tactics.
But in the midst of the debate, health and legal experts who spoke to NBC News, stressed that parents who refuse to seek medical help when their child experiences a potentially life-threatening condition have relatively little legal protection, and in some extreme cases the state can override their ability to make healthcare decisions.
Since the child in this case had a temperature of more than 105, the Arizona authorities were at "the limit where the state is reasonable to intervene because it has an independent duty to protect the child if the parents are unwilling or out of able to do so, "said Douglas Diekema, pediatric bioethics education director at Seattle Children's Hospital.
"Therefore, we have child neglect and abuse laws," said Diekema, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Sarah Beck, the mother in this case, brought her 2-year-old son to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine on February 25, when she was told that the boy had a temperature above 105, according to reports from the Chandler Police Department.
The doctor believed that the child could suffer from meningitis, threatening disease, and it could not be tested at the clinic, so she told Beck to take the child to the hospital, according to a police report. Beck was reluctant because her son was not vaccinated and she feared "possible consequences", the report said.
When the doctor later learned that day, the child had never made it to the hospital, she called the State Department of Child Security, which in turn contacted the Chandler Police Department, Arizona, because "there was a current health / well-being hazard and that he demanded immediate medical attention. " Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine did not respond to a request for comment from NBC News this week.
Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, professor of bioethics at the New York University School of Medicine, agreed that a 105-degree temperature is actually life-threatening, adding that the case came down to protect the baby's life.
"The ethical principle is that if your child is in imminent risk of dying and if it is likely that medical care can reverse it, you as a parent are not entitled to have your child die," Caplan says. who have contributed to NBC News earlier.
In most states, some government officials and health professionals are generally required to report to state authorities if they believe a child's life is threatened because of their parents' decisions, said Kathleen Hoke, professor of public health policy at the University of Maryland. Carey School of Law.
But the circumstances of the Arizona raid officers had pistols and ballistic shield drafts, and the camera's camera recordings sometimes resemble video from a drug problem – stirred law enforcement tactics debate.
"They treated us like criminals who broke in our door," said the boy's father, Brooks Bryce, to a local television station. "I mean, I don't know what kind of trauma did to my kids."
The Chandler police have recommended prosecutors that they place child abuse charges against Bryce and Beck, who were not arrested as a result of an incident.
Beck's reluctance to take her son to a hospital because he was allegedly not vaccinated may have been unfounded, according to James Hodge, public health law and ethics professor at Arizona State University Sandra Day & 39; Connor College of Law. He pointed out that Arizona allows parents to exclude vaccinations for philosophical, religious or medical reasons.
It was not immediately clear whether the parents in the Arizona case were based on their medical decisions on personal or religious beliefs. In addition, the parents have suggested that they chose not to take their young son to the hospital because his high temperatures had apparently gone down.
But details in the police report were potentially troubled: It said that when officers entered the house, two other children were found "in their bedroom, which was covered with stains of unknown origin." It also said, "The children shouted to us that they had vomited several times in their beds and had stains around their mouths."
Ultimately, the authorities had the right to intervene in what could have been a potentially fatal situation.
"If you have legitimate reasons to believe that a child's health is at risk because of parental resistance to treatment, it is legitimate," Hodge said. "It's abuse."