Child Endangerment in Arizona and the Amish

Amish Hershberger Child EndangermentThere are two stories in the news that bring forward difficult questions about what responsibility the state has over children. In one case a couple imprisoned three young girls and in the other parents are refusing medical treatment for their daughter.

In both cases the state stepped into matters and the public reaction is relatively predictable. In the Arizona case almost everyone agrees that the mother and step-father needed to be arrested for keeping the girls locked in the house while in the Amish case the majority seem to think it is the right of the parents to deny potentially life-saving medical care to their daughter.

I’d imagine that almost all of my readers agree with the state interceding in the Arizona case but opinions will be more divided in the Amish case. Both situations involve parents behaving in ways that appear to be at odds with what is in the best interest of the child.

In one situation girls are apparently imprisoned and the other a girl is essentially being allowed to die when the medical community thinks she likely could be saved via chemotherapy.

The Amish case in particular is difficult because Sarah Hershberger might die even with treatment and there is a chance she could live without treatment. There are no guarantees either way.

I suppose Fernando and Sophia Richter might argue that they were protecting the girls from the dangers of the outside world, that they were home-schooling them, that the girls were locked into the house in punishment for particular misdeeds, that as parents they have the right to make these rules and enforce them.

The bigger question, from a Libertarian perspective, becomes: When does the government have the duty to step into a situation and protect children from their parents?

I think we can all agree that parents do no have absolute control over their children. We can also agree that a child does not have absolute control over their own decisions. Sarah doesn’t like chemotherapy but what if she doesn’t like going to bed at 10:00 p.m.? Perhaps a ridiculous comparison but the reality is that we frequently don’t allow children autonomy over their lives.

So, when do parents lose their rights? That’s the question.

What if the Hershberger case the medical community said there was a 99% chance of survival with chemotherapy and a 99% chance of death without? What if the odds were 50/50?

What if Andy Hershberger didn’t believe in antibiotics and Sarah got a cut. It became infected and against doctor’s advice antibiotic were not applied. What is sepsis set in and she died? Would that be endangerment? Should the state step in and apply antibiotics?

I don’t have any answers for you today. I think the courts must make these difficult decisions on a case-by-case basis. These decisions then go into effect. If we don’t like these decisions we can vote out the legislators that appointed the judges and in many cases the judges themselves.

One thing I don’t like is people pretending these are simple decisions. That the line is firmly drawn and that those that disagree are wrong or evil.

These cases involve children who are being abused and potentially being allowed to die unnecessarily. This brings out passionate debate and that’s a good thing. Try not to let your passion become anger and hate.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

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