Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.
OPINION – It’s been 9 years since the Parker Jensen case gave us a chilling example of what happens when parental rights collide with the power of the state.
Parker, a then 12-year-old boy living in Sandy, Utah, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma after a tiny growth was removed from beneath his tongue. His physician recommended that Parker be placed on chemotherapy immediately or face virtually no chance of surviving the cancer.
Upon learning that chemotherapy that would likely leave their son sterile—if he survived at all, Daren and Barbara Jensen insisted on getting more opinions and exploring other alternatives. Their doctor insisted that they begin treatment immediately or he would be forced to contact the Division of Child and Family Services to have Parker removed from their custody and forced to undergo chemo.
Parker’s parents refused to submit and a warrant was issued for their arrest following a hearing by a state juvenile judge who ordered Parker placed in state custody. By this time, the Jensens had moved to Idaho with Parker and were slapped with an additional charge of kidnapping their own son to avoid the state ordered chemotherapy. State authorities accused Parker’s parents of being abusive and medically neglectful. News stories portrayed the Jensens as stubborn and suspicious for resisting what the medical and legal bureaucracies were demanding of them.
Facing the threat of prison sentences, and loss of their parental rights, it would have been understandable for Parker’s parents to simply surrender to the state’s demands and acknowledge that it was a battle they could never win. But win they did.
Ultimately the state blinked in the face of rising public outrage over the issue of parental rights and the apparent callousness with which the state was seeking to force its will onto the Jensens. The charges were dropped, though not before the Jensens were sternly admonished that the consequences of their choice would be solely upon their shoulders.
With that warning, the state washed its hands of the mess it had created, leaving the Jensen family to begin rebuilding their lives.
Today, Parker Jensen is a perfectly healthy 21-year-old man. He shows no sign of the illness and is by all accounts a happy, productive member of society. Apologists for the state and DCFS have few kind words for Parker’s parents, but must concede that for a boy who was supposed to be dead within weeks if not forced to undergo chemo, he is living proof as to who was right and who was wrong.
Daren and Barbara Jensen sued the University of Utah doctors and the state for their actions, claiming that their family had been harmed by threats of arrest, loss of employment, media scrutiny, and public ridicule. But last year the Utah Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the doctors and social workers could not be sued in this case. The Court stated that the basis for this decision was that “the defendants’ conduct was motivated by a legitimate concern for Parker’s life.”
The justification offered by the Court appears to be based in the legal doctrine of parens patriae in which the state is allowed to intervene as the parent when a child’s actual parents, guardians or caretakers are either abusive or neglectful. In the case of Parker Jensen, his parents were not guilty of either of these offenses. They merely refused to acquiesce to the directives of bureaucrats and experts who claimed to know what was best for the boy.
But the state was wrong and though Parker was never in danger, his family was unjustifiably put through the wringer. The lesson here is that the state is not infallible and great care should be taken to protect the rights of the family from the predation of official busybodies.
Those who work within the child protective system often have the best of intentions and their efforts are sadly necessary at times within our society. But unchecked powers, even in the hands of those with the best of intentions, are a certain recipe for suffering and abuse that is no less real just because it occurs at the hands of the state.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.