The Right of the Child against Compulsory Religious Belonging

The recent bill in Iceland that would make nonmedical infant circumcision for boys a crime reminds me once again how international human rights standards are still ambiguous with regard to balancing the right of the child with the right of the religious parent. The bill, already sponsored by at least a quarter of Iceland’s doctors and more than 1000 nurses and midwives, inevitably met with criticism from religious groups that practice male circumcision. The drafters of the bill denied the suspicion that the legislation is an attack on religious freedom, citing health reasons as its primary motivation. Unsurprisingly, the controversy is framed in terms of whether certain public health mandates for children should trump the religious freedom of parents not to conform to these mandates. In Iceland, the issue is magnified by the extremely small Jewish and Muslim populations in the country – adding charges of xenophobia to the controversy. In this blog post, I will not focus on recounting the history of the debate of male circumcision and international law, but to articulate my general frustration with a discourse like this that takes the right of religious parents to impose religious memberships and beliefs onto their biological children for granted. Why is it so rarely discussed, that the child born into a religious household may have a form of agency not yet recognized by our current legal and ethical discourse? Why should we grant parents the benefit of the doubt that they have “the best interest of their child” in mind when acting as proxies in medical and health matters?

Continue reading

Terminally ill teen won historic court ruling to preserve her body after death

By John Tingle

The British media have been reporting and discussing widely the case of JS v M and F (Cryonic case), 10th November 2016 in the High Court of Justice, Family Division, [2016] EWHC 2859 (Fam). The case is the first in the UK and probably the world to deal with the issue of cryonics and a 14-year-old girls dying wish for her body to be preserved after her death with the hope that at some time in the future she will be brought back to life after a cure for her illness is found.

Truth is stranger than fiction and this case raises some fundamental legal and ethical issues which will occupy future courts and the legislature for some time to come. I could not imagine a more novel and difficult medical law case.

The facts

JS had a rare form of cancer and her active treatment came to an end in August when she started to receive palliative care. Over recent months she has used the internet to investigate cryonics: the freezing of a dead body in the hope that there may be a cure for the illness that she had and will be brought back to life at some future time. Mr Justice Peter Jackson heard the case and stated in his judgement that the scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial and that there is considerable debate about its ethical implications. Since the first cryonic preservation in the 1960s,the process has been performed on very few individuals, numbering in the low hundreds. There are two commercial organisations in the United States and one in Russia for this form of preservation.She is one of only 10 Britons and the only British child to have been frozen by Cryonics UK , a non-profit organization. Her body was transported to the USA and is being stored in a vat of liquid nitrogen by the Cyronics Institute in Michigan. Continue reading

Child safeguarding: the National Health Service (NHS) can do much better

By John Tingle

Our children are our future and we need to look after them well. There is however a lot of evidence to suggest that we are failing our children in a number of key health areas. UNICEF in a report put the UK in 16th position – below Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal – in a league table of child well-being in the world’s richest countries. The report considers five dimensions of children’s lives – material well-being, health and safety, education, behaviours and risks, and housing and environment – as well as children’s subjective well-being.

There are a number of health and other child well-being challenges for the UK to meet. The UNICEF report provides some useful context from which to view the recently published Care Quality Commission (CQC) report on the arrangements for child safeguarding and healthcare for looked after children in England.The CQC is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.Whilst the report does contain some positive findings, when read as a whole, these seem subsumed by the large number of negative findings, some of which are very worrying. Continue reading

Women, Girls, and Mass Incarceration: A Hidden Problem

Goodwin-Headshot11By Michele Goodwin

Mass incarceration’s invisible casualties are women and children.  Too often, they are the forgotten in a tragic American tale that distinguishes the United States from all peer nations.  Simply put, the U.S. incarcerates more of its population than anywhere else in the world–and by staggering contrast.  While the U.S. locks away over 700 men and women for every 100,000, here are comparable figures from our peer nations:  England (153 in 100,000), France (96 in 100,000), Germany (85 in 100,000), Italy (111 in 100,000), and Spain (159, in 100,000).  The U.S. accounts for less than 5% of the globes population, yet locks away nearly 25%.  Sadly, this has grave social, medical, psychological, and economic consequences.

Congressional Briefing on Women, Girls, and Mass Incarceration

In a recent essay, published in the Texas Law Review, I explained that, the population of women in prison grew by 832% in the period between 1977-2007—nearly twice the rate as men during that same period. More conservative estimates suggest that the rate of incarceration of women grew by over 750% during the past three decades. This staggering increase now results in more than one million incarcerated in prison, jail, or tethered to the criminal justice system as a parolee or probationer in the U.S. The Bureau of Justice Statistics underscores the problem, explaining in a “Special Report” that “[s]ince 1991, the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled, up 131%,” while “[t]he number of children with a father in prison has grown [only] by 77%.” Continue reading

The Impact of Genetic Testing on Children: What do we know, what’s missing?

By: Claire E. Wakefield, Lucy V. Hanlon, Katherine M. Tucker, Andrea F. Patenaude, Christina Signorelli, Jordana K. McLoone and Richard J. Cohn

Genetics research often pushes the boundaries of science, and by the far-reaching nature of genetic information, pushes us out of our comfort zones to consider new psychosocial, ethical, and legal scenarios. Conducting genetic testing on children arguably pushes our boundaries most. Yet, there can be medical benefits for some children, who may then be offered tailored medical care to match their risks. Children can also be indirectly affected by genetic testing, when they learn genetic information about themselves because a family member has had a genetic test. Continue reading

Hormonal Treatment to Trans Children – But what if?

A few weeks ago I ran across this BuzzFeed post, telling the story of Corey Mason, a 14 year old male to female Trans teenager who was filmed getting her first pack of estrogen hormones. Her mom Erica, who uploaded the video to Facebook and YouTube, spurred a social-media discussion on the topic of hormonal treatment for Trans children and youth.

Erica said the vast majority of reactions were very supportive. On the other hand, different views and opinions were put on the table as well, even from people who ally completely with Trans identity politics.  One of them, a Trans woman, said she fears from rushing (perhaps gay) teenagers into irreversible treatments, as most Trans kids “GROW OUT OF IT”. Aoife commentThis position was also taken by Alice Dreger, a Bioethicist and a historian writing on Intersex issues, in describing the uneasy choice between the two models available at the moment: On the one hand you have the ‘therapeutic model’ offering mental health support to the Trans person and/or family, to help ease up the tensions caused by gender identity dysphoria (GID). This model aims to relax the dysphoria and so avoids any medical irreversible interventions. On the other hand, you have the ‘accommodation model’ asserting there’s nothing wrong with the trans person and/or his/her family, and so offers medical interventions to accommodate it.[1]

Continue reading

The Great Vaccination Debate Rages On: Is There Any Solution?

By Allison M. Whelan (Guest Blogger)

For many years now, there has been ongoing debate about childhood vaccinations and the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland and its subsequent spread to other states has brought vaccinations and questions about communicable diseases back to the headlines.  Politicians, including potential presidential candidates such as Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, and Chris Christie, are also wading back into the debate.

Most recently, five babies who attend a suburban Chicago daycare center were diagnosed with the measles. As a result, anyone in contact with these infants who has not received the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine must remain home, essentially quarantined, for the next twenty-one days—the incubation period for measles. All five of these infants were under the age of one and therefore did not yet have the chance to receive the vaccination, which is not administered until one year of age.

The Chicago outbreak is a prime example of why public health officials emphasize the reliance on herd immunity to protect those who are not yet, or cannot be, vaccinated for legitimate reasons. Unfortunately, the United States has reached a period where it can no longer place much reliance on herd immunity, particularly as more parents decide not to vaccinate their children against very contagious, yet highly preventable diseases. Illness and death are two of life’s certainties, but why should they be given that they are preventable in this situation?  What are the strongest, most rational arguments in this debate? What policy solutions should states consider?  Several options have been proposed over the years, some more feasible and likely than others. Continue reading

Technology and The Horrors of Child Pornography

By Michele Goodwin

A recent spate of arrests in New York emphasizes the potentially dangerous connection between technology and sex crimes.  In a landmark police bust, authorities tracked down and arrested more than seventy people in the New York City area who were trading child pornography.  Among those arrested were a rabbi, police chief, nurse, architect, and nanny.  Police infiltrated chat rooms where traffickers made available images of children engaged in sex acts with each other and adults.

What is the role of technology in the arrests and distribution of these images?  While technology helped officers track down child pornography traffickers, the internet also facilitated the trading of those harmful, illegal images of children.  On line chat rooms and other social network spaces provide for the broad-spread, easy distribution of child pornography.

Importantly, the children whose images are trafficked are re-victimized each time their images are shared, bought, and sold.  The frequency at which this can occur is intensified over electronic media, opening a horrific floodgate as demonstrated in the New York arrests where thousands of obscene, pornographic images of children were collected from dozens of confiscated laptops. Clearly, solutions to this problem must necessarily emphasize examining technology’s  unwelcome dark side.