Tuesday, June 09, 2009


They say we live in the land of the free. But I'm not so sure that our society truly embraces the ideals of freedom.

Sure, we promote free speech. When it suits our purposes, we flaunt it.

But there's more to freedom than simple speech. For every action we take, there is a result for better or worse. And nothing highlights this more than recent headlines.

In Australia, a young couple has been imprisoned because of their parenting choice. There appears to be no evidence that they were abusive or literally neglectful of their young daughter. They simply chose to treat her eczema with homeopathic remedies. Which might have worked. Unfortunately, this time it didn't. She developed secondary infections, and eventually succumbed, after the couple sought treatment in a hospital setting.

Of course, I'm appalled that the child suffered. I'm mortified that something like eczema was the cause of death. But, even more, I'm concerned that there are people who condemn these parents as "bad" simply because they made a choice. They did NOT expect the choice to cost them their daughter. They, like most of us, wanted what was best for her and if their experience with western medicine was anything like ours has been, they were probably frustrated with the "system" and sought their own answers.

While I believe that life should be valued, and respected, I also don't think that when a life is lost it automatically means someone has failed. There is a fine line for us to walk as protectors of the innocents. While authorities should certainly intervene to protect children who are too young and helpless to protect themselves from abuse or true neglect, they also need to respect a parent's decisions when it comes to their children.

From the accounts I've read, this child was fed, clothed and loved. She was receiving alternate care. Yes she was still suffering. But her parents suffered alongside of her. And who's to say that Western medicine would have definitively fared better? There may be more to the story that a jury heard and acted on, but the public response that condemns these parents as "bad" simply because they are left grieving leads me to believe that we, as a society, do not value freedom as much as we claim to.

Parents are human. Everyone is human. The people running the court systems are only human, for crying out loud. How can they expect any more from their clientele? We all make mistakes and some of those mistakes prove to have greater consequences than others. But if they're made in good faith, they're still honest mistakes. The more harshly we hold people accountable for their mistakes, the more distrust people will have of authority in general. And the less likely they are to admit mistakes before they prove fatal.

The Australian couple has stirred up the vaccination debate in some circles. Is failure to vaccinate equivalent to abuse? Neglect? Or educated choice? Why should parents have to worry that not only are they making the "wrong" choice, but that they will go to jail or lose their children if something happens? Vaccines are a calculated risk. That knowledge doesn't help when your child is the sacrifice.

For me, it brings to mind the many "alternate" choices families make every day. Breast or bottle, formula or milk, alternative or cows? What to feed your children, and when. What they wear, what they watch, when they are permitted to stay home or in the car alone. We each make difficult parenting decisions every day, some of them heftier than others. Some are more wrought with emotion.

No one knows my kids like I do. I don't know other people's children the way that they can. I don't presume I can parent better than anyone. But, I know I am the one best situated to take care of my own kids. And I support everyone else's rights to best take care of their own kids...as long as they don't interfere with my right to parent mine.

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