Benjamin Bull

There is a growing so-called “children’s rights” movement that is attempting to hijack parental rights, and, as a result, prematurely end the life of ill children.

A recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics outlines the “suffering” and “torture” supposedly inflicted by parents who insist on continued medical treatment for their sick children. The authors of the review, Dr. Joe Brierley and Dr. Andy Petros, two pediatricians from Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, argue that subjecting children to treatment—when, in their opinion, a child is terminally ill—is “inhumane.”

In fact, they argue that continuing to medically treat a child when doctors have given up hope could constitute a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits “torture.”

The two doctors reviewed 203 cases at the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care unit, where parents were advised that life support systems should be turned off for their children because recovery, in the view of the hospital staff, was unlikely. Seventy percent of deaths at the unit resulted from withdrawing medical care.

As the authors explain, the religious beliefs of parents “can lead to children being potentially subjected to burdensome care in expectation of ‘miraculous intervention.’” And since the children being cared for are usually “too young to subscribe to the religious beliefs by their parents,” doctors should not be beholden to the parents’ faith in determining care.

In sum, as Executive Director of the National Secular Society Keith Porteous Wood put it, “The experience and advice of doctors must not be held ransom to [parents’] religious beliefs, however strongly held.” In other words, the doctor should substitute for the parent in determining treatment and care of the child. The fact that this argument arises in the context of a government-run healthcare system makes it all the more troubling.

And it raises several profound questions: Why should a doctor—whose duty is to serve the family—have the final decision as to when a child should die? And given that doctors are frequently wrong, why shouldn’t parents have the right to fight for their child’s life to the very end? Are we now ready, as some advocate, to eliminate the parents’ voice from insisting that their child receive treatment when it’s available?

In light of the fallibility of the medical profession, the very notion that continuing to treat a child after a doctor has given up hope is somehow “torture” or “inhumane” seems absurd. Doctors are sometimes wrong. And parents, by the very nature of their role, have been entrusted with protecting and caring for their children. Removing that right from the parents and vesting it with a non-family member is itself barbaric.

Yet this entire argument is useful in highlighting the need to safeguard parental rights. As Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Piero Tozzi recently testified before Congress on restoring parental rights in the U.S. Constitution, “Respect for parental rights is integral to the well-being of the family and the well-being of children.”

Tozzi explained that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has paradoxically claimed to fight on behalf of children “by acting against parents and family, advocating policies which, if implemented, would undermine the interests of children.” The child, Tozzi points out, exists in a “familial context” and is “dependent on others for securing his or her interests.”

Apparently using the Convention on the Rights of the Child as cover, so-called “children’s rights” activists want virtually all decisions affecting the child to be made by the child and not the parents. Their apparent goal is to restructure familiar relationships by fundamentally reducing the role of parents and increasing the role of the government in the guise of advocating for the child.

But parents exist to secure a child’s interests. Ordinarily, this would be common sense, but we live in a strange, new world—one in which the rare exceptions of parental abuse become the norm by which all parents are measured.

Some in the U.S. have suggested a constitutional Parental Rights Amendment that would safeguard those rights and, at the same time, ensure the well-being of children. Parents would not be subject to the tyranny of activists or a government bent on usurping the natural order of the family. A constitutional amendment that prohibits activists and doctors from stripping parents of their primary duty to give children the best possible chance for survival is understandable given the creeping Orwellian movement to reduce the role of parents in caring for their own children.

And when the medical establishment accuses parents of “torture” for insisting that their child continue to receive the best care available, it’s a solution whose time may have arrived.

Benjamin Bull

Benjamin Bull is an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom.