Increasingly, state governments are determining what treatments a child can and cannot have—regardless of parents’ wishes. Three shocking stories prove the point.
In April 2003, Barbara Jensen took her son Parker, then twelve years old, to an oral surgeon to have a small growth removed from his tongue. The growth was diagnosed as Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The medical center at the University of Utah recommended surgery and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was very aggressive and ran the risk of making Parker sterile and stunting his growth. The parents refused treatment even though doctors said chemotherapy was imperative, and instead sought second and third opinions (they believed he had been misdiagnosed) and considered alternative therapies.
The doctor who provided the diagnosis went to the state Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and filed a medical neglect complaint against the Jensens in juvenile court, obtained a court order requiring chemotherapy, and a judge ordered the state of Utah to take custody of the boy.
The Jensens violated the order by moving to Idaho, whereupon they were charged with kidnaping and custodial interference. Parker’s father, Daren Jensen, was arrested, spent four nights in jail, and lost his job. Under political pressure the DCFS dismissed the petition, the criminal charges were downgraded to custodial interference, the parents were given one year of probation, and the record was finally expunged.
However, the deal that the Jensens struck also stipulated that they would take Parker to an oncologist of their choice in Idaho, and follow the doctor’s advice. On September 26, 2003, the Jensens announced that no cancer had been found, though a report later that week contradicted that information, claiming that chemo was being called for.
Parker never did have chemotherapy, the state eventually backed down under media scrutiny, and the 2004 and 2005 sessions of Utah’s state assembly were rife with “Parker Jensen laws” to protect the rights of parents.
In 2005, the Jensens sued University of Utah doctors and DCFS workers, arguing that Article 1 of the Utah Constitution includes “the fundamental right to make decisions regarding one’s family, including health matters.” The case was eventually heard by the Utah Supreme Court. Its March 29 ruling found that Parker Jensen and his parents have no legal claim against the state, its employees, or the doctors who turned him into DCFS.
Happily, Parker is alive and well at 20 years old. It is very possible he never had cancer. The conventional medical paradigm is quick to diagnose and prescribe aggressive, toxic treatments such as chemotherapy and surgery—despite the fact that it is not always effective and often dangerous. We shouldn’t penalize patients simply for looking for alternative treatments.