"Bad Medicine" May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered


New Legal Paper Challenges the Charge of Medical Child Abuse

The latest volume of the UC Davis Law Review features a powerful article by Maxine Eichner, J.D., Ph. D., which we are honored to make available to you at the Parental Rights Foundation website.

In “Bad Medicine: Parents, the State, and the Charge of ‘Medical Child Abuse,'” Eichner, who is the Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, argues that the titular “diagnosis” should not be permitted in the court room. Her premise is that “the [Medical Child Abuse] theory developed by physicians and enforced by child protection officials is bad constitutional doctrine, bad law, bad science, and bad medicine.” (Eichner 2016, 206)

Eichner begins by describing Medical Child Abuse (MCA) cases: First, a doctor or hospital threatens an MCA diagnosis if parents don’t agree to their prescribed plan of treatment. Then, they call child protection officials, who treat the diagnosis as “demonstrating, or at least highly indicative of, child abuse.” As a result, parents “are fighting in court to retain custody and, in some cases, to avoid termination of parental rights. In a rare but rising number of cases, states prosecute these abuse charges criminally, so that parents must also fight to avoid prison.” And all the parents wanted was help for their sick child! (Eichner 2016, 210-11)

Occupying 115 pages of the journal, “Bad Medicine” is a far cry from a social media post. But it is an absolute must-read for any parent accused of MCA – and for their lawyers. In it Eichner convincingly argues against the diagnosis from each of the four perspectives mentioned above (“bad constitutional doctrine, bad law, bad science, and bad medicine”).

As a law professor and a parent who has walked her child through a rare-disease diagnosis (and who has likely faced threats of an MCA charge herself along the way as a result), Eichner not only exposes this horrible practice in the medical field, but then exposes its weaknesses so the threat can be disarmed.

It is true (as Eichner also admits) that some rare parents produce symptoms in their children in order to draw attention to themselves. These parents should get help, and should be prosecuted as child abusers. “Yet the broad definition of MCA developed by doctors captures within its diagnostic net many loving parents making the best decisions they can for their genuinely sick children.” (Eichner 2016, 206)

If you can make the time to do so, read the article at ParentalRightsFoundation.org. And if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself confronted with this accusation, you need to read it right now – and send the link to your lawyers as well. Eichner’s arguments are well thought-out, clearly communicated, and ready for the courtroom.

The Parental Rights Foundation is grateful to Dr. Eichner for sharing her work with us. And we invite you to spread the word in order to get this information to those who most need to read it today!

Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research

All quotations: Maxine Eichner, “Bad Medicine: Parents, the State, and the Charge of ‘Medical Child Abuse,’” UC Davis Law Review 50, no. 1 (2016): 205-320.

Here is a brief excerpt from Eichner’s constitutional argument:

The broad definition of MCA developed by its physician inventors undercuts the careful balance between parents and state that courts have constructed in medical neglect cases. That definition, by allowing a physician to designate abuse any time he or she believes that a parent has instigated unnecessary, potentially risky medical treatments, gives no deference whatsoever to parental decision making. Under it, a doctor can designate abuse almost any time he or she disagrees with the choice a parent makes regarding medical treatment, even where some other doctor ordered the treatment and, in many cases, still supports it. Likewise, that definition does not exclude situations in which the benefits and risks of a particular treatment are unclear, or in which the doctor and the parent weigh these pluses and minuses differently. Yet basing intervention on a standard that accords broad deference to the physician’s judgments and none to parents’ violates our constitutional scheme. (Eichner 2016, 245)