Medical Child Abuse

In our firm we often represent parents ensnared in a double nightmare: their children are seriously hurt, and they are charged with having hurt them. This happens to parents of infants said to suffer from “shaken baby syndrome.” It also happens to parents whose children of any age are found to have several bone fractures that occurred at different times.

Law professor Maxine Eichner and her husband are among parents whose double nightmare is a bit different. Children of these parents are seriously ill, but some physicians don’t think so and accuse the parents of seeking unnecessary medical care. Seeking unnecessary care is now called “medical child abuse.”

Eichner has written of her family’s eight-year ordeal, and of “medical child abuse” generally, in The New York Times.

In her opinion piece Eichner notes the hazards of letting courts overrule parents’ medical decisions:
[In most cases] courts recognize that parents are usually far better positioned—and motivated—than doctors or the state to know and do what is in their child’s best interests.

Government should not get involved when doctors disagree about a diagnosis or course of treatment, the doctors have full knowledge of the child’s medical record, and a parent chooses one doctor’s opinion over another’s. It should intervene only when there is evidence that a parent has intentionally provided significant misinformation to physicians, fabricated elements of the medical history or induced medical symptoms.

Parents should always be allowed to seek second (and third) opinions.

Child abuse pediatrician Carole Jenny and her husband, psychiatrist Thomas A. Roesler, developed the concept of “medical child abuse” and published a book by that title in 2009. Both now practice at Seattle Children’s Hospital.