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PROMOTED

Filed at 4:32 am under by dcobranchi

Tad has a really good comment on the “NOT SO GOOD” thread. I’ve reproduced it here.

Lioness, I think most of us are like you in that we are very concerned about the decisions we make as parents and we do our best, but not every human being is cut out to be a parent. Or at least some folks would reach that conclusion. Clearly some are better at it than others, and these people in Florida are not shining examples of competence. It would be wonderful if your expectation was realistic, but the fact is that many parents make decisions based on rumor, folk-lore, religious beliefs, and sometimes just plain laziness. Some people have a deeply inbedded distrust for doctors, lawyers, and any authority and will not accept information coming from the government or the press, etc. Their beliefs are deep and they defy reason, and any attempt to reason with them will fail. To some extent we all choose which information we believe and which we do not. Even if we all choose to beleive the “correct” data, not everyone has the ability to reason based on that data and draw “correct” conclusions. Even those who have top notch reasoning skills will err if they do not have all of the necessary data. Galeleo was convicted of Heresy for arguing that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and it took another almost 300 years before the Catholic Church accepted the idea. One need only look at the contentious religious debates to see this principle in action. Or better yet, the debates over education reform!

I am not defending the Florida family as responsible, or even sane, but I refuse to call them irresponsible or insane. What I am sayying is that such a position is not that different from the position many of us take in choosing to homeschool or choosing not to vaccinate, and so on.

I have a neighbor who thinks my wife and I are throughoughly nuts for making the educational choices we’ve made, yet we believe we’ve made the best choices from the information we consider reliable and competent. (Anybody else have a similar experience?) My neighbor thinks his information-and his judgment-is better, that his decisions would be better than mine. He judges me by his standards and finds me lacking; you jugde the family in Florida by your standards, and find them lacking. I would not be so judged, so I will abide the counsel of Matthew 7, and not presume to judge; I will cast no stone. Rather, I think it better to offer compassion to this family. They need helpful friends, not condemning neighbors. And someone who tries to see life through their eyes will stand a much better chance of strengthening their ability to parent than the official “services” of a social worker or the orders of a judge.

An extreme case like this presents, in stark relief, a question we grapple with here all the time. Where do we draw the line between the rights of the family and the duty of the state to step in? In this case, the family made a decision, regarding diet, that not only risked the lives of their children, but resulted in the death of one of them. Should we therefore enact laws that prescribe the diet we all feed our children? The extreme Libertarian position (and that of ancient Rome) says that this is a liberty interest of the parents and the state should not step in, the equally extreme opposing view says that the children are the creatures of the state, and the state has a right, even a duty, to oversee all aspects of the raising of the child. (Some have proposed in the past that all children should be taken from their parents at birth and raised totally by the state; that those who nuture children should be specially trained and qualified, and that the child’s education should include indoctrination in the ideals defined by the state!)

I assume that most of the readers of this blog usually lean more toward the Libertarian view. But on this issue, when the question is life or death of a child, it seems we lean a little less Libertarian and a bit more Socialist. So, what rule do we use to define where the liberty interest ends and the state’s duty to protect begins? What restrictions are we willing to accept to our parenting decisions in order to protect the children of other families? Is this the responsibility of government? Or is it the responsibility of the neighborhood? Could a caring neighbor, taking the time to befriend this family have averted this tradegy? If we are to allow this to be the responsibility of government and allow the line to be drawn by “majority” vote, are we prepared to accept the possibility that our views may differ from that “majority?” (I put “majority” in quotes because the real majority often stays home on election day. Where I live, the mayor was elected by less than 15% of the registered voters.) Is the majority competent to draw the line? If not, then whom? Our elected representatives? How do we ensure that the line drawn is truly based on parenting ability and not on a political agenda or on erroneous “conventional wisdom?”

15 Responses to “PROMOTED”


Comment by
J Aron
December 26th, 2005
at 1:40 pm

ok – well can we start by acknowledging that in this country there is supposed to be a presumtion of innocence .. we are all presumed to be following the laws that are laid down.. and when there is an articulable and provable evidence that we are breaking the law (like embezzling money or abusing our children) in some way then that is the time for the state to step in.

Perhaps this means that the state cannot be totally proactive in stopping crime and can only be reactive if crime occurs and perhaps thats what makes the difference between a libertarian or free society and one that is totalitarian in nature. When we try to make laws proactive then we are restricting freedom.

A free society allows you the freedom to make bad judgements.

yes a life of a child is quite important – but can there be a balance between the state protecting that life (and taking away the rights and responsibility of a parent over that childs life) or allowing the right and responsibility to the parent with dire consequences to the parent if they fail in protecting and correctly nurturing that life? I
I think the former means we give up our children to the state (and hope the state doesn’t kill them) and the latter means we trust parents to do the job they should be doing. That may mean if the parents choose some crazy lifestyle then it is their business, and they have to pay the price if it is injurious. Part of that price may be the loss of a child. Hopefully there is jail time associated with that loss in non accidental circumstances.

Yes, we have laws that remove kids from bad parents – but we can’t predict who will be good parents and who will be bad from the start and thus we shouldn’t be dictating how people choose to live their lives.

My kids want to ski this winter – it could get them injured real bad.. as a parent I have to decide if this is good or bad for them .. and if they get hurt should I be held for neglect or go to jail for not taking good care of them, or allowing them to engage in risky behavior?
Should there be laws that make the decision for me? I don’t thinK so.

Perhaps the question is should society allow people the freedom to raise their kids as microbiotic eating skinhead anarchists as well as omnivore peace loving liberatrians? (and any other combination in the social spectrum thereof)


Comment by
Lioness
December 26th, 2005
at 2:44 pm

Thank you Tad. I must confess I find the whole question perplexing. I’m not a Libertarian. Indeed, I find the whole Libertarian-Socialist continuum alien to my thinking, as any rational contemplation of those extremes would have a hard time picking which one was stupider. I’m an old-fashioned Liberal, and I’ve talked about my politcal ideology here: Like the Founding Fathers I believe in checks and balances. I believe that steps should be taken to restrict the actions of the people only in light of incontrovertible empirical evidence that such actions present a clear and present danger to the health, safety and property of the people. That’s a pretty high standard, but I think this particular case, where we are talking about dead and obviously malnourished children, represents incontrovertible empirical evidence of a clear and present danger to health, safety or property.


Comment by
J Aron
December 27th, 2005
at 10:41 am

So I guess you are ok with the government agents knocking at your door at any time to check up on whether your kids are fed and clothed in a standard that they see fit.. what if they check your cupboards and find unhealthy food there, or heaven forbid easily accessible cleaning fluid or booze, and drag you off to jail for child endangerment?

I want the government out of my house, and I also don’t think it is right for them to be in anyone else’s house unless they have irrefutable proof that something is amiss.


Comment by
Spunky
December 27th, 2005
at 11:06 am

Tad,

You have articulated the argument very well.


Comment by
Lioness
December 27th, 2005
at 11:19 am

Oh please J, is there incontrovertible, empirical evidence that my actions represent a clear and present danger to the health and safety of my children? Let’s break it down with the help of

incontrovertible. in·con·tro·vert·i·ble (n-kntr-vûrt-bl, nkn-)
adj.
Impossible to dispute; unquestionable: incontrovertible proof of the defendant’s innocence.

empirical em·pir·i·cal ( P ) Pronunciation Key (m-pîr-kl)
adj.

Relying on or derived from observation or experiment: empirical results that supported the hypothesis.

Verifiable or provable by means of observation or experiment: empirical laws.

Guided by practical experience and not theory, especially in medicine.

Do we need to define the rest of the words too, or is that enough?

There are not a whole lot of actions that fall under the banner of “impossible to dispute”.


Comment by
COD
December 27th, 2005
at 11:24 am

Judy,

I would argue that a 6 mo child that weighs 7 lbs, and is dead, is irrefutable proof that something is amiss.


Comment by
Tad
December 28th, 2005
at 1:38 pm

J, are you saying that “probable cause” should be “irreffutable” in child protection cases? Or are you really saying that the level of probable cause should be the same in child protective cases as it is in criminal cases?


Comment by
J Aron
December 28th, 2005
at 6:15 pm

So are you saying that in order to prevent a 6 month old from being beaten to death (which I don’t condone) that every home that has a child should be visited by authorities to make sure that nothing is amiss? Yes a dead child is irrefutable evidence. It’s horrible. It’s tragic and shouldn’t happen. No one is disputing that. We are trying to determine if the state can do anything to prevent that death and still not trample on every parents right to raise children as they see fit.

There are still kids being kept in closets and being starved.. How do we know about them unless the state has a way to find that out? And if we allow the state to go door to door to find that out, what does that mean to us as a society? Looks like there is a balance between protection and freedom. Will you give up freedom and allow house to house searches by the state? I don’t think so.

I am not saying we should allow people to beat or starve their kids to death.. but I am saying there are laws already that say this is a crime and people should be punished for that crime, and that if someone has a clear articulable and provable reason which demonstrates that a child is being abused or neglected then the state can take action on it based on the laws that are in place. This is already the case. But you seem to be saying that since kids are still being abused and killed then this is not working. So what is the solution?

My question remains.. do we make laws that restrict our freedoms (like home visitations etc) or do we just trust that parents are doing the right things? If we do the latter then is there still a way to keep kids safe without trampling on parents rights to raise their children as they see fit.

You all still have not answered that question, because you are too busy reading the dictionary .


Comment by
Lioness
December 28th, 2005
at 10:37 pm

I see we’re going to need smaller words here.

The authorities do not have the right to go visiting people’s homes without a real good reason.

A dead baby is a real good reason.


Comment by
Tad
December 29th, 2005
at 12:17 am

J, in actual practice there are two standards. One is a criminal standard and one is a “protective” standard. The criminal standard is defined by the sixth amendment, and requires the authorities to obtain a warrant, which in turn requires that “probable cause” exist and be demonstated to a judge. This does not require irrefutable proof, but it does require that there be enough evidence that a case can be made on its face. Other protections for the criminal suspect also exist, such as the requirement that the state prove its case, the protection against self incrimination, the right to a jury trial, habeus corpus and so on. All of this pertains to the “police” power of the state. And, of course, the state has no power until after the crime has been committed (or at the least is in progress.)

The questions I am asking aren’t about police powers or criminal justice, but the state’s authority to act Parens Patriae, the “protector of persons not able to protect themselves.” Does the state have this power? Should it? What are its limits?

The Andressohn’s did not intend to kill their daughter, but their incompetence or ignorance caused caused Woyah’s death, or so it would seem. (The jury did acquit them of the Manslaughter charges.) One news story reports, “Joseph Andressohn said he believed a raw food diet was healthier for his family and that he never thought it would harm anyone.” I have a hard time seeing this man as a criminal.

At this juncture I have no problem with the state overseeing the Andressohns’ parenting; it is very clear that an intervention is warranted. If there had been evidence sufficient to obtain a warrant prior to Woyah’s death, I would have no objection to an early intervention that could’ve saved her life. But the pre-emptive intervention did not happen.

But that leaves two major questions still unanswered: What would have been sufficient “probable cause” for a pre-emptive intervention? A neighbor’s suspicion that the baby wasn’t thriving? Let me ask this question in a differnt way: If you were Joseph Andressohn, when would you want the state to step in? I am sure that today he wishes they had stepped in sooner! On the other hand, how do we protect families that make unusual decisions from inappropriate intrusions and wrongheaded interventions?

The second question is: how does the state go about doing its duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves? This is a more pernicious question. There’s more to it than just whether the state can enter your home or inspect your kids. Lioness present the Lockian view of natural rights being inviolate unless they interfere with the rights of others, but this question pits the rights of the child potentially against the rights of the parent. In a case of actual abuse or neglect, the rights of the child have been violated, and the state, as intervenor, acts on behalf of the child. However, when there has been no abuse or neglect, the action of the state is often damaging to both the family and the child. Should laws be enacted specifically intended to prevent this type of occurance in the future? Should the state compel dietary requirements? Vaccinations? Public School Attendance? Car seats? Semi-annual visits to a pediatrician? Mandatory nutrition courses before getting a pregnancy permit? Can good parenting be legislated?

J, the system doesn’t work very well. The basis of the compulsory school attendance laws is parens patriae, as are the compulsory immunization and vaccination rules. All homeschool regulation is as well. Even the mandatory car seat laws. I’ve seen families torn apart because a social worker believed in myth and folk-lore about sexual abuse or because an attorney was looking to further her career. There are also too many cases like Woyah Andressohn; children who die because nobody intervened. I’ve seen juvenile court judges make (wrong) findings based on evidence that no other court would even admit. I’ve seen homeschoolers harassed by vindictive and judgemental neighbors calling child protection services, and I’ve seen kids murdered in my neighborhood that could’ve been saved if somebody had called. I’ve had visits from social workers. I’ve seen doctors try to use the courts to overrule a quality of life decision made by the parents of a child with terminal cancer who chose not to subject him to chemo. I’ve seen childless Guardian Ad Litems that were totally clueless about parenting or children try to argue for clients they didn’t understand. I’ve seen “interventions” that were just as dysfunctional as the people they were trying to help. I wonder if, on balance, allowing the state to act parens patriae is actually helping any children or families.


Comment by
COD
December 29th, 2005
at 9:32 am

I never argued in favor of parents patriae. A dead malnourished baby is certainly grounds for a closer look at that family though. However, I do think the parents are criminally negligent in this case. Drunk drivers don’t mean to kill anybody either, but we don’t have any problem locking them up when it happens. The fact that this is a parent – child relationship does not give the parents extra leeway to screw up. They are free to try any diet they want. However, it wasn’t working, and any reasonable person should have seen that, and changed course. When they failed to do so, they failed to uphold both their moral and legal responsibilities as parents. And going back to my original point many comments ago, I don’t have any problem with the state restricting the parenting rights (or even the reproductive rights) of this particular family. They have shown beyond any doubt that they lack the critical reasoning skills to be responsible as parents.

I don’t know exactly where the line should be, but I’m 100% comfortable saying that when you kill your child by neglecting the very bottom of Maslovs hierarchy, you’ve crossed the line.


Comment by
J Aron
December 29th, 2005
at 2:38 pm

I happen to agree with many of the comments said here. However,did anyone know beforehand that this family was going to end up with a dead baby because of a dietary lifestyle? I see this as an extreme case. I think someone ought to sit down with these parents and give them a dose of common sense, if not jail time. I don’t think there could have been a way to prevent this unless other family members or neighbors intervened, which may have meant the state getting appropriately involved.

That being said, should the state be performing some routine scrutiny into what we do? The state’s scrutiny into any families lifestyle would include scrutiny of your choices. Do we want to live our lives under such conditions?

Should we be taking state tests to see whether we are going to be good enough parents or not? and who says the state knows best anyway?

You know with all the abuse going on in state child protection services I certainly wouldn’t trust the state to develop a standard of care or try to enforce one.

What if the state came into your home and decided that something you are doing isn’t quite healthy? Are your kids watching too much violent TV and eating junk food? I know a woman who kept a really dirty house, the state came in and made a fuss. Her kids were fine, nothing was amiss but they still made a big deal out of it and threatened to take away her kids. She spent a fortune in lawyers fees to get the state off her back. Is that ok with you? Should we send the cleaning police to her house to check up on her periodically?

I took my daughter to the doctor once and was wrongly accused of child abuse..so don’t try to tell me that mandated reporters know what the hell they are talking about all the time … they don’t. Yes, they can make more harm than good and they do. An incident like the one I experienced almost made me not want to seek medical help in the future, and I can see the government’s mistrust of people’s parenting abilities to be a real problem for the bulk of society that are innocent.

For the children that cannot escape abuse and neglect, I think it is tragic. But I don’t think the government scrutinizing everyone will put an end to it. There are sick people out there and legislating everyone else is not going to fix that problem, it’ll just make it miserable for the people who are just minding their business and living their lives in a lawful and responsible way.

The state should stay out of my (and your) house and not compel anything. People will die whether there are laws or not, and if a crime has been committed then we have laws to deal with that.

And please, child restraints in cars and vaccinations have more to do with lining the pockets of the companies that produce the products than protecting the public. The FDA and government agencies of that ilk are the most corrupt going. If they had such concern for the public safety then why has our food supply been allowed to become so poisoned? why has the water supply become undrinkable? why have cures for diseases been stifled? Sorry but I am not relying on the government to protect me or you, and I object to some of the legislation that is purported to “protect” me when I know that it is really designed to restrict my freedoms.


Comment by
Tad
December 29th, 2005
at 4:22 pm

Chris, we agree that a dead, malnourished baby is more than sufficient grounds for state intervention. We even agree that the state needs to step in in this case to protect the remaining children. If we define “criminal negligence” as the failure to perform an affirmative duty, then I agree with you (and the jury) that they are, indeed, guilty. (There are other definitions of “criminal” that apply here as well.) I disagree with the analogy to the drunk driver; the drunk knows the probable effects and risks of his action when he takes the drink; I am not convinced that the Andressohns knew the effects of their actions. The drunk, the law reasons, knew — and therefore intended — the probable consequences; the Andressohns’ did not know their choice would have the consequences it did; there was no “felonious intent” nor can we infer “intent” from the choices made. They thought, wrong though it may have been, they were doing the right thing. In that sense, they are not “criminals.” Idiots perhaps, but not criminals. Their choice was not criminal — such as deciding to rob a bank –or even wrong in the sense that it could never have worked under any circumstances. Their well intended choice failed in execution. Whether a “reasonable person” would have done something different isn’t really relevant; the events transpired as they did. I’m not sure we have enough information to make the call on the reasonable man test, but the jury seemed to think they failed it. Does the state need to impose a “punishment” on the Andressohns? I should think that the consequence they have already suffered would be more than sufficient, both in terms of “correction” and “debt to society.” What is a few years, even a lifetime, in jail compared to the knowledge that your incompetence resulted in the death of your child? If they are so stupid that they’d repeat the error after losing a child, then jail time ain’t gonna fix ’em. Nothing will. Those folks are going to be in an emotional prison for the rest of their lives.

Like the poor, idiots will be with us always. And for the forseeable future, so will the mentally ill, the criminal, and the derranged. Even if we could rid the world of them, there would still be people making errors based on bad information, and there would be people failing to execute well designed plans. Given the directions our society is headed, I expect this to get worse, not better over time.

There was a time, well back in prehistory, when a diet of raw vegetables may have been the only choice. If we are to believe Will Durrant, this was a time when children belonged to the village and the village shared all things in common. An incompetent mother could rely on, even be ousted by, other members of the community to protect the child. The idea that parents have rights with regard to their children arose with the notion of private property; children (and wives) were the property of the father; they could be sold, even killed at the father’s whim. I believe it was ancient Persia that demanded a tribute of young boys to be paid by Babylon each year as a tax. The first child protection action in the United States was brought based on statutes that prohibited cruelty to animals. So, is the idea of parents’ rights a hold over from the days when children were considered property?

Or is the idea of parental rights based on the fact that we hold parents responsible for the support and upbringing of the child? With that responsibility must come the authority to decide and to act. In theory, parents act based on the best interests for their children. Also in theory, the parent is closer to the child and therefore better able to determine the best interests. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the theories. The theory presupposes that the parent is sufficiently intelligent to make the right choices and has sufficient and reliable information available to help them decide. It also presupposes that the parents’ needs are being met and they are rational. Lastly, the theory presupposes that the parent is willing to take the time to critically evaluate the information he has rather than make a decision based on conventional wisdom, religious belief, folk-lore, or emotional response. That is one tall order!

I suspect that most parents make “safe” decisions; instead of playing to win, we play not to lose. For example, there are millions of parents out there that choose to put their kids in the public schools out of fear they would fail if they homeschooled. Or the parent who takes a kid with a back problem to an MD instead of a chiropractor because they believe the chiropractor is selling snake oil and they aren’t aware that the DC receives more than twice the training in skeletal anatomy as the internist, and three times the ethics training. Some take a few risks– they let their kids go skiing, they choose Vegan diets, they homeschool. Sometimes they research the risks and mitigate them (bunny hills only, joining homeschool co-ops, working with a dietician or an experienced Vegan), sometimes not. Others fall way outside the mean. There are some parents who actually do meet all of the presuppositions. There are some who don’t meet any. There are those with 200 IQs and those with 20. There are some that just have their brains wired funny. There are some with values that are totally alien to us.

My point is that parenting ability falls on a curve; or rather several of them. We can’t legislate those curves out of existence. When the legislature decides to draft a new law to protect children, it limits the choices a parent can make. For example, my 13 year old can’t get a job, even though it could be in her best interest to be economically productive. The compulsory school attendance laws are a prime example; they were enacted to protect kids from parents too dumb to realize their kids needed to be educated, but the laws restrict the choices a parent has to provide the best education possible. Now, instead of a few kids receiving no education and a lot getting good educations, we have… a few kids getting no education anyway, and a lot getting a poor education. (And we have a bunch of parents that have become dependant on the public school system, and its attendant drain on the public weal!)

Can we legislate something that would protect the Woyah Andressohns of the world from this kind of tradegy? Yeah, Probably. But would it do more harm than good? I am of the opinion that the present system is more harmful than beneficial, and I believe that more restrictive legislation would make matters worse. This may sound cruel and heartless, even callous, but I think we need to let nature take its course and allow parents to make errors. Even fatal ones. At the same time, I think that we can save some of the Woyah’s by reinventing a society that is less stressed and in which there is more of a village community. To do that requires the hand of friendship, heartfelt compassion, and a sincere desire to help; not the stern command of the policeman or the prying inspection of the socialworker. The threat of having one’s children taken away by the state needs to be eliminated (or at least minimized) and replaced by the sincere offer of assistance. The social worker needs to stop being Gestapo and needs to become the friend who can help when the baby isn’t thriving. (I’ve know several social workers that fit both molds.)

Rather than sending future Andressohns to jail for “neglecting the very bottom of Maslov’s hierarchy,” I’d prefer to help them keep the baby alive.


Comment by
COD
December 29th, 2005
at 5:00 pm

Tad, at no point have I suggested or even hinted that we need additional child protection laws. In general, we need far fewer laws, however the few we have should be vigiously enforced. I don’t know why we are arguing – we are basically in agreement with the exception that I am more willing than you to allow the government to take steps that limit the future parenting choices of this particular couple. IMO, they lost the benefit of doubt when they starved their child to death.


Comment by
Tad
December 30th, 2005
at 9:56 am

Were we arguing? I thought we were trying to reach a definition of what we wanted to see in terms of how the government protects children. In any event, I was trying to define what my thoughts on the subject are by seeing where everyone else was on the issue. UNtil my last post, I didn’t know what my answers to the questions I posed was. And although I think my last post summarizes and ideal, I doubt it would work in practice.

I thought we agreed on limits for the Andressohns’ future parenting options.