Mandatory Assessments of Ability to Raise Children

While we may have to contend with threats of mandatory health care in the United States, health care appears even more Orwellian in Great Britian where they can reach mandatory judgments on the ability of women to raise their children. In a twist on predicting crimes in Minority Report (which I’ve already noted some believe is possible), social services in Great Britain believe they can predict whether a woman will be a suitable mother. From The Telegraph:

A pregnant woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her at birth because she is deemed capable of “emotional abuse”, even though psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest that she will harm her child in any way.

Social services’ recommendation that the baby should be taken from Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old charity worker who has five A-levels and a degree in neuroscience, was based in part on a letter from a paediatrician she has never met.

Hexham children’s services, part of Northumberland County Council, said the decision had been made because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer from Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy, a condition unproven by science in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to draw attention to herself.

Under the plan, a doctor will hand the newborn to a social worker, provided there are no medical complications. Social services’ request for an emergency protection order – these are usually granted – will be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates on the same day.

From then on, anyone discussing the case, including Miss Lyon, will be deemed to be in contempt of the court.

Miss Lyon, from Hexham, who is five months pregnant, is seeking a judicial review of the decision about Molly, as she calls her baby. She described it as “barbaric and draconian”, and said it was “scandalous” that social services had not accepted submissions supporting her case.

“The paediatrician has never met me,” she said. “He is not a psychiatrist and cannot possibly make assertions about my current or future mental health. Yet his letter was the only one considered in the case conference on August 16 which lasted just 10 minutes.”

Northumberland County Council insists that two highly experienced doctors – another consultant paediatrician and a medical consultant – attended the case conference.

Making decisions such as this based upon a case conference without even seeing the patiient reminds me of Bill Frisk deciding that Terri Schiavo was not brain dead based upon viewing a video tape. The inaccuracy of that diagnosis was verified on autopsy. The Telegraph quotes a Member of Parliament as saying that such diagnoses of Munchausen’s Syndrome “had been used to remove a number of children from parents.” They also report that 2000 babies under one year of age were taken from their parents.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    jpe says:

    If a mother-to-be is so mentally disturbed that she’s likely to be a danger to herself or others, I can’t see what is so terrible about taking a child from her. After all, we of enlightened thought understand that a child has certain rights that override the rights of a parent. The probabilistic elements are mildly troubling (inasmuch as they can be abused), but we either a) give the parent the benefit of the doubt, which results in more dead / abused children; or b) give the analyst the benefit, which results in more children whose only injury is being taken from their parent until said parent demonstrates his/her sanity.

    (b) is clearly superior.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I disagree that b is necessarily superior. The presumption should be on the side of the mother and the government should stay out lacking evidence of harm to the child. There is hardly any sign in this case that the mother is so mentally disturbed that she is likley to be a danger and it sounds like the system is being abused.

    If it is believed that the mother is a danger, this should be determined by direct psychiatric examination of the mother, not based upon a case conference. It is also a real stretch to say that the mother presents a danger to herself or others based upon the information presented of minor problems.

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