Hospitals

Should the government remove obese children from their parents?

The Cleveland area found itself at the center of the latest “big-government-in-healthcare” debate after publicly employed social workers last month removed a 200-pound third-grader from his family and put him in foster care. The move likely marked the first time in Ohio that the government took a child away from family due strictly to weight-related […]

The Cleveland area found itself at the center of the latest “big-government-in-healthcare” debate after publicly employed social workers last month removed a 200-pound third-grader from his family and put him in foster care.

The move likely marked the first time in Ohio that the government took a child away from family due strictly to weight-related reasons, The Plain Dealer reported.

Citing the child’s weight as putting him in danger of developing chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension, the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services considered the boy’s mother’s inability to control his weight a case of medical neglect.

It seems almost appropriate that Cleveland would become the center of a national debate on the topic, given the firestorm of controversy Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove sparked two years ago with his comments on obesity. Cosgrove lamented that, while the Clinic is able to outlaw hiring tobacco smokers, it can’t do the same for the obese. “We are protecting people who are overweight rather than giving people a social stigma,” Cosgrove said at the time.

Removing a child from his or her parents is one way to give the child and parents the “social stigma” that Cosgrove seems to think is an important step in combating obesity — a problem that leads to $147 billion in annual costs to the U.S. medical system. But is that slippery slope of government intervention one we should hike down?

Unfortunately, yes. Just as courts have ordered the seizure of children whose parents deny them medical care, in some extreme instances, the government needs the authority to help children save themselves from obesity when the parents have proven incapable of providing that help.

“In 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,” two Harvard University researchers wrote earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Certainly, this leads to all sorts of questions that aren’t easily answered about when removing an obese child from the home would be justified. Suffice it to say, seizing a child from his parents is something no one takes lightly and it’s an action that should be reserved for only the most extraordinary and rare circumstances.

But if we truly view children as among society’s most vulnerable members who are to some extent at the mercy of adults in their lives, then there must be some means of removing a child from the adults who are setting him up for a life of hardship and chronic health problems — not to mention a raft of healthcare costs imposed upon society.

Failure to give government that means is to allow some parents to slowly kill their kids.

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