The strange wisdom of "force of law":
a media release from a children’s-rights advocate

Child Advocacy Group Blasts Attempt to Force Implants on Deaf Foster Children

The rights of thousands of children to have medical decisions made by those who know and love them best–their parents–could be jeopardized if a court forces two deaf children to undergo irreversible cochlear implant surgery, according to a national non-profit child advocacy organization. A court in Grand Rapids, Mich., may decide as early as Friday.

The implant procedure has deeply divided the deaf community, but according to Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, "the issue is not whether the implants are good or bad. The issue is who is in the best position to make that decision, the parent or a court full of strangers."

The children were taken from their mother "for what appear to be pretty flimsy reasons," Wexler said. The removal had nothing to do with their deafness or whether the children should have implants.

A school and a foster care agency suggested the implants and now the children’s "law guardian" wants to force the children to be implanted against the mother’s wishes.

"As a society we have made a smart and sensible presumption," Wexler said. "We presume that almost always, the adult who will make the best decision for a child is the adult who loves that child, and we presume that adult is the child’s parent. Courts generally intervene only when the parent’s decision would jeopardize the child’s life or cause severe harm to his health. Neither is the case here.

"The children of Lee Larsen already have been traumatized by separation from their mother. Now on top of that the law guardian proposes to inflict another trauma. If he gets his way, the children will be taken to a hospital, wheeled into an operating room, put under general anesthesia, and operated on for three hours or more. Then they will awaken to the utterly strange sensation of sound–all of it without their mother to love and comfort them."

Because the mother opposes the surgery, the emotional trauma to the children is likely to outweigh any gain in hearing, Wexler said.

The decision could directly affect all sorts of medical decisions for thousands for foster children. The indirect implications are staggering, Wexler said. "The only difference between these children and every other deaf child is the happenstance that: the state got hold of them before the implant issue arose. If it makes sense to implant these children by force of law, then it makes just as much sense to send squads of child welfare workers to raid the homes of every deaf child who allegedly might benefit from the procedure, haul those children away, force irreversible implants into their ears and ship them back home.

"Fortunately, the law doesn’t allow that."

October 3, 2002

Copyright @ 2002, U.S. Newswire. Used by permission.

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