Harvard University Professor Dr. David Ludwig is under attack for his public call this week for some obese children to be taken from their parents to protect their health. Ludwig stated that “[i]n severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable, from a legal standpoint, because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.” That legal standpoint may need a bit more work.
Ludwig is an obesity expert at Children’s Hospital Boston and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. His comments came in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
First, in defense of Ludwig, he prefaced his statement by saying that such intervention would only be in severe cases. It is indeed possible for a child to be removed in a severe case where the child is in imminent risk of seriously injury or death due to either acts or omissions by the parents.
However, the statement rightfully raised concerns. There is growing evidence of genetic predispositions for obesity in some people. The parents may not be at fault in the continuing condition. Moreover, removing the child from the home will only increase stress for the child.
Parental rights are protected by the Constitution and, while child services are given a fair degree of discretion in the removal of children from homes to protect them, those decisions are subject to a full legal process. Most such removals are likely to fail under current legal standards absent a showing of imminent harm and a failure of the parents to follow medical advice. As a comparison, courts often express reluctance to order cancer treatments or medical interventions for a child when parents claim religious objections to treatment. The child is often at immediate risk when a court issues an order of removal or arrest.
The problem is that obesity is very common (unfortunately) among children today and they are all at some level of risk. An estimated 12.5 million children and teens (17% of that population) are obese.
Ludwig would need a case where the child is in immediate risk of heart failure of some of medical emergency. Such a status usually required hospitalization, not foster care. Moreover, experts in the article below question whether care would improve in foster care.
This was the case of 3-year-old Anamarie Regino who weighed 90 pounds and was removed from the home for two months. She did not show any improvement in foster care. She is now 14 years old and was raised by her parents.
Source: ABC News