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The gendarmes of CPS

I note that it has been just about exactly a year since this post and discussion of the excesses of CPS.

Now we have a new story which you may already have heard: The Russian couple, Alex and Anna Nikolayev, in California who made the mistake of checking their baby into a hospital because of his flu symptoms. Their baby was later seized from their home by gun-wielding police who roughed up Alex a bit for good measure, simply because (gasp) they had discharged their baby from Hospital #1 and taken him to Hospital #2 for a second opinion without the Almighty Permission of those Godlike Beings--the medical personnel at Hospital #1. The docs at Hospital #2 okayed him to go home, but the ego-bruised docs back at Hospital #1 got their revenge, and the parents are now, after a hearing on Monday, pathetically grateful simply to be allowed to see their baby in the hospital any time they want. For a few days there he was in "protective custody" back at Hospital #1, presumably to prevent his horrible parents from kidnapping him and, y'know, taking him to the doctor or something.

I wish I could say that all's well that ends well, but it doesn't really. Baby Sammy is now going to be taken to Hospital #3 for a second (really a third) opinion, and maybe the doctors at Hospital #3 will agree to his going home. At some point he might need heart surgery, but it's unclear whether that is needed. His parents have had to agree not to take him home without permission, though. ("I do hereby solemnly swear that I will never take my baby away from the hospital without the permission of my betters, the doctors who Know Everything.") And they have had to agree to be "monitored" by CPS and to have a CPS visit in their home after Sammy is allowed to come home. Because parents are dangerous people and must be watched carefully.

We're told that his parents now have control over his medical decisions again, but in a sense that isn't really true, because of course any doctors can always call CPS again if the parents don't agree to what they want to do, or even if they dare to question it.

This is the stuff of police states.

Now that we have established that, once your child is in a hospital, he is a prisoner there and that your whole family is at the mercy of the doctors and nurses, who may sic the police on you at any moment, what are some implications of this fact?

Here's one I can think of immediately. Suppose that a child is disabled or ill and that the doctors have decided that it is time for him to die. Suppose that they want to stop feeding him and dehydrate him to death. (No, this is not entirely hypothetical. See this story about a baby with a cleft palate for whom the doctors prescribed death back in 1997. He was saved, fortunately.) Suppose that the parents will not agree. And suppose, moreover, that the parents insist on taking the child home and continuing to feed him there. Could CPS be called, just as in this case and as in the case last year, and the child seized? Absolutely. I do not consider such a scenario far-fetched. We are long past the time when, "Oh, come on, that wouldn't happen" is a reasonable response to such suggestions in the United States.

Given that doctors and CPS can seize your child simply because you won't do what you are told, even for the most trivial reasons (such as the horrifying allegation in the case last year that the mother had refused a Vitamin K shot for her baby), I foresee the day when parents will be charged with "severe neglect" for attempting to save their children's lives and when the children will be seized so that they can, in actual fact, be neglected to death by the hospital.

It gives me no pleasure to say that. Nor do I know what we can do about it. Note that nobody is considering suing the CPS in California. The parents and their lawyer are just trying to fend off CPS. There will be no repercussions or restraints on either the doctors or on CPS that would prevent them from doing the exact same thing again.

It has come to the point that I really do not feel that I can say happily to my children, "America is a free country."

Comments (27)

Lydia, stop this. You're just being an ultra right-wing conspiracy theorist "cling to your guns and religion" ultra-conservative Rush Limbaugh nutcase, don't you know that? What are you going to do next, get even crazier and start using the dirty "crazy person" c-word, communist??? Huh???

No REASONABLE person would ever believe that America is turning into a police state. I should know, my college Professor told me so (okay, perhaps not about this issue DIRECTLY...).

And the government is making a gun registry either, so there!

I'm sorry, ISN'T making a gun registry.

MarcAnthony, I decided to make a learned-sounding response to your satire. :-) Here's something interesting: In Whittaker Chambers's Witness he talks about meeting another ex-communist, General Walter Krivitsky. Krivitsky was later, apparently, killed by the Communists for having defected. (That is to say, he "committed suicide" after having told his family on repeated occasions never to believe that he had committed suicide!) Anyway, Krivitsky asked Chambers a test question when they met. He asked, "Is the Soviet state a fascist state?" Chambers answered yes.

My preferred adjective for describing the behavior of the government officials in the incident in the main post would be "fascist." The word "thugs" also comes to mind.

Had that been my home and my children, someone would have lost their life that day. Armed men entering and attempting kidnap after physically accosting me, I would have been in fear of my and my family's lives.

Here's the sad, sad answer to that, DmL: In that case, you yourself would probably have lost your life and would, if you survived, probably have spent time behind bars. By "wimping out," Alex lived to have some hope of resuming a normal family life after getting CPS off his back.

I realize that is a sad commentary on the land of the free and the home of the brave. That it should have happened to Russian citizens (apparently) residing in the U.S. is an even greater irony. But it's where we're at. Those kinds of devil's dilemmas ("Do you stand up for your rights in the face of outrageous government action and get killed or do you submit to injustice for the sake of not depriving your child of a father?") arise only under tyranny.

I understand and agree. I'm not saying that would have been best for anyone involved... it would just be fight instinct in the moment.

I just have this feeling that these sorts of power-plays will end up being more and more reactive. That if it happened to enough people who felt like I did the government would begin to relearn some healthy fear of the populace.

What a cute baby. Just terrifying. Evil. Wrong. [insert unprintable epithet for CPS here]

Were I on the jury, you'd not be convicted if I thought your motivation was defending your children, even if your actions were over the top or disproportionate.

Please, is it too soon to start talking about major law suits against both the hospital and CPS? If we can't fight with fire, then at least we can fight with the tools that we "allowed" to use in a civilized society - the pen, argument, courts, and (heh, heh) the police. Can we find a grand jury to at least hear charges of criminal conspiracy to suppress competition (hey, they went to ANOTHER HOSPITAL, darn it, they took their custom elsewhere, we can't let them do that...)

We should also not leave it to personal initiative by the victims. The doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and CPS thugs should have their names publicized, and they should be subject to ridicule and contempt in the public forum. People should cross the street to avoid them, small shops should close to avoid serving them, etc. Shame and ostracism are fine social weapons to use.

Oh, sure, I can just hear the crying on behalf of "poor doctors who just wanted to protect the baby". Tough. If they don't know how to exercise restraint of their own not-so-godlike-powers of judgment of "the best" for everyone else, then they veritably aren't actually looking out for "the best" in its proper sense, but in a highly prideful sense that places parents outside the orbit of judgment for a child's welfare.

I would like to find out why a judge has a right to order Sammy to a hospital when his parents - against whom there are no VALID or even conceivably valid charges of neglect - don't think it is appropriate, on the advice of medical professionals. Why does the judge get to decide in favor of one professional over another in despite of the parents reasonable judgments? Why is CPS even granted a role here?

Hospital staffers threatened to not release our youngest son (now three) to our custody when my wife refused to consent to his enrollment in Social Security via the "Enrollment at Birth Program." I was on my way to pick them up when she called to inform me of this. I had her put the staffer on the phone with me, and I asked her to "cite the law or statute for me that gives you this authority." She replied that "well, there isn't a law that says this, it is our hospital's policy." I said "screw your hospital policy. Do I need to bring the Sherriff with me when I come?" She indicated that wouldn't be necessary. Thought not. But here is the deal:

The same hospital staffer had forged my wife's signature, not once, not twice but, three times on the form requesting the issuance of the Social Security number. So she knew I had her dead to rights. With our next baby things were a lot different. Staffers did answer "yes" on the form, but then asked my wife to sign and initial it. When she refused, telling them she wanted that document destroyed, it dawned on them who she was and they couldn't get us out of there fast enough, or efficiently enough.

That is a true story. But think about it - how many young couples are there who wouldn't sign their baby's life away in a heartbeat under threat from a hospital to not release the baby to their custody? I only know of one, and I raised the husband.

God bless America!

"I really do not feel that I can say happily to my children, "America is a free country.""

Dear Dr. McGrew,
Is the proposition "America is a free country" true?
Does it correspond to reality?
Your post here implies the falsehood of the proposition. If it is false, then we must say (regardless of our feelings) to our children, "America is not a free country."
Is there a country in which such a thing could not happen? If so, where? If not, then there are no free countries.



TM, to answer your question seriously: In the sense in which I would have meant that statement ("America is a free country") thirty years ago, no, it is no longer true. *Relatively* speaking, there are still freedoms here greater than those elsewhere. I'm thinking here of the comparative religious freedom in America as compared to repressive regimes and of the large gains home schoolers have made. In fact, it's one of the oddities of history that we are now _more_ free to home school our children than we were thirty years ago but that, in the same time period, the power of CPS in cases like this one has either become much more oppressive or (another possibility) its oppressiveness has become more widely known. I'm inclined to think some of each. Meanwhile, the police have gotten very trigger happy. So it has been a strange, strange tradeoff.

Are there any "free countries"? I don't think there are any countries that are now what America aspired to be and used to be closer to being. Everything is tradeoffs. For example, one might gain greater parental control over a child's health care at the cost of having to pay bribes. That's just an example. Or one might have a great deal of freedom in a sense but at the cost of having to live in constant danger from getting murdered. No problem with CPS but all kinds of problems from local warlords and their gangs!

I'd still rather live here than anywhere else, but the contrast between what one wants to teach and what is is deeply sad. For example (at risk of threadjacking my own thread): There is a story in one of my daughter's textbooks, told in the first person by an immigrant, in which he refuses to plead guilty to a petty crime even though it would save him money and trouble if he pled guilty. The judge praises him and tells him that this is America and that he doesn't have to lie and say he did something he did not do. The policeman is forced in court to admit that he didn't actually see the alleged vandalism, and the man is acquitted. Would that happen now? Maaaaaybe. But it's entirely plausible that it wouldn't. Pressuring the innocent into plea bargaining is, I understand, pretty darned common now. Or what about "in America we are all equal before the law"? Hmmm, try squaring that with hate crimes legislation and the elaborate 14th amendment jurisprudence of "protected classes." What kind of a free country is it where we have to live in fear of government officials as in the events in the main story, where the police behave in that way so that one can't tell one's kids to trust the police, the policeman is your friend, etc. This ain't Mayberry anymore. One could go on and on, but these sorts of things do affect civics lessons.

Dear Dr. McGrew:

A long way from Mayberry indeed!

You ask, "What kind of a free country is it where we have to live in fear of government officials?"
If we do live in fear of government officials as per the story of Mr. and Mrs. Nikolayev, can we specify how freedom is militated against? The obvious appears to the rights of parents to best treat their children under competent medical supervision. That freedom is certainly jeopardized in this case.

Yet as it is the mission of this site to defend "what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ" there are some freedoms which remain and are worth defending, and using regularly.

We have freedom to go to our courts (such as they are) for the redress of our grievances, or to pursue a hefty lawsuit against the hospital, CPS, et. al. We have freedom of speech allowing us to shame the individuals and institutions involved in this case. We have our freedom to participate in the political process to change the laws of our states to prohibit such cases from occurring in the first place.

On a personal level, as a parent, my soul was troubled after reading this story. (I also read a piece by Anthony Esolen this week on "Sludge" which soured me further). So, I had to take a walk in the woods above my home while listening to George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermon on "Loving our Enemies." That old master coupled with the sunshine, the sea and the wildflowers calmed me down a bit.

Perhaps we should remember our Lord's word to "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain" and remember that our truly Free Country is not far from here.

In grace,


Tony, I believe that HSLDA did bring a lawsuit apropos of the case a year ago in which the postpartum mother was kicked out of the hospital by CPS. I don't know if they are pursuing that case.

It's now my opinion that young couples who are planning to home school (which may not apply to the Nicolayev couple in the main article) should seriously consider joining HSLDA even when they are pregnant with their first child, if HSLDA will take them under those circumstances. In this way they might have immediate representation if anything crazy comes up in the hospital at the time of the baby's birth. HSLDA would be likely to know what sorts of statutes and/or constitutional precedents would be best to use for a suit in cases of this kind, as that is one of their central concerns.

Absent that, my guess is that any lawyer is going to be looking more just to "help the couple out of the mess" and letting it stop there. But how, then, is reform of the system to occur?

It seems to me that the root of the problem lies in a breakdown of those prudential checks that are essential to any such system. For example, most state custody laws allow a child to be seized in an "emergency." I don't oppose the existence of such provisions. But that assumes some kind of "reasonable man" judgement about what constitutes an emergency. Our public servants seem to have lost the ability to make such judgements! I have not done a lot of research into the scope and legal source of public servant immunity. For example, can that immunity to personal suit be lessened from where it presently is by state statute? If so, it definitely needs to be! And even if the CPS workers and police cannot be sued as individuals, their departments can be. I suggested last year that state legislators should start creating express causes of civil action for overreach that breaks up families and egregiously tramples on parental rights. This would be a perfect example of what such causes of action should be all about.

There was another issue, only tangentially related to this case but centrally relevant to other cases, that I ran into when researching state laws a few years ago. My understanding is that some state mandatory reporter laws _only_ permit (and do require) the mandatory reporter to report abuse by a parent. This creates an enormous bias against parents. For example, if your child has been physically or even sexually abused by a teacher at school and you bring a complaint to a doctor, the doctor will report it and the presumption will be that the parent is guilty, even if the parent brought it to the doctor's attention! What I gathered from some extremely strange laws I researched several years ago is that this is a built-in feature, not a bug. Evidently it's supposed to somehow limit the mandatory reporter statute so that no one other than the parents can be hurt by the conjectures of medical personnel and other mandatory reporters! Prima facie, any such report is a report _against_ parents. There is some weasel phrase to the effect that this is abuse perpetrated *or allowed* by parents, but of course it might be that neither is the case.

Again, I'm going here on memories that I have not double-checked since then, but I remember being quite shocked. Any such laws _must_ be changed.

I don't oppose the existence of such provisions. But that assumes some kind of "reasonable man" judgement about what constitutes an emergency. Our public servants seem to have lost the ability to make such judgements! I have not done a lot of research into the scope and legal source of public servant immunity.

Right. I don't know how far the immunity rules extend, but to be reasonable there should have to be some _reasonable_ basis for thinking that an emergency situation is under way. I can understand CPS starting an investigation on the hospital's request, but an investigation doesn't presume to have conclusions at the outset, that's why you investigate. You can't say that CPS had concluded reasonably, after a proper investigation, that the child was in immediate danger - because they didn't even attempt to find out all the facts. If CPS is just taking kids away BASED ON A MERE ALLEGATION, then that amounts to a direct violation of the 4th amendment and cannot be considered to fall under "reasonable" belief in any emergency.

The fourth amendment has been toasted, fried, and served up to the birds of the air in the last few decades. It's amazing that something so straightforward and so clear in the Constitution can have been so utterly trashed, while a mythical "right to privacy," which is stated nowhere, has metastasized into a right to kill your unborn child and even highly specific guidance as to the conditions under which you must be allowed to kill your unborn child. So you can have your unborn child torn to shreds and no one may stop you, but if you take your child out of a hospital without permission in order to take him to another hospital, you get a police home invasion. Really, our Constitutional jurisprudence in this country has become something worse than a joke.

And yet children must sometimes be protected from their parents, as these children were not.

Yeah, so? Why bring that up here? Are you under the impression that any of us thinks that there _are_ no real cases of medical neglect? Isn't that a somewhat insulting thing to imply?

Think about this for a minute: What kind of perverse incentive do stories like the main post create re. seeking medical attention for one's children? Any sane parent who reads the main story will think, "My gosh! It makes me hope I never have to take my child to the doctor again, and certainly not to the hospital!" Oh, _that's_ great for counteracting kooky "prayer rather than medicine" movements! Real great. Let's make people justifiably terrified that the medical establishment is going to snatch their children if they so much as say "boo" to them.

The parents in the main story were so far from being "prayer rather than medicine" people that they *took their kid to the hospital for flu symptoms*. I know plenty of perfectly good parents, parents who aren't neglectful, who wouldn't do that! They'd say, "What a shame, my baby has the flu. I guess we'll have a rough time ahead of us for a little while, here. Wonder how many of the other kids are going to get it." But no, Anna and Alex were conscientious. They were concerned. They were going to get medical attention for little Sammy. And they got a nightmare.

So honestly, I have to say that I don't react terribly positively to a response to _that_ story that involves linking a story about a family whose kids die because they don't want take them to the doctor.

Sanity, I just can't imagine what the point of that is. Everybody knows, and it's already been conceded by Lydia, that there are conceivable instances of the kind you're highlighting. Therefore, what?

Sanity, I just can't imagine what the point of that is. Everybody knows, and it's already been conceded by Lydia, that there are conceivable instances of the kind you're highlighting. Therefore, what?

Obviously a few hard cases justify broad, sweeping, cultural-reconfiguring changes to our people and way of life. 9-11 changed everything; if it saves one child (but indirectly kills 10,000 we refuse to note in our stats) then it's worth it!

The police are every bit as much the enemy of individual freedom here as CPS. I doubt CPS could do more than make a citizen's arrest here. We wanted cops who just "enforce the law" and we got them. The father was thrown down and detained, the house entered at gun point and the mother discretely threatened with force if she didn't want to give up her child.

Conservatives don't like to face up to the fact that in this day and age, this is who and what most of the police are. They aren't the thin blue line protecting us from a collapse into anarchy. They are the enforcement arm of CPS and every petty bureaucrat that conservatives dislike. You can't defend this if you value freedom, certainly not with the excuse that they're "just enforcing the law."

One commenter recommended parentalrights.org. Does anyone know anything about them?

MikeT, it's an essential part of the liberal Gleichschaltung in which things like hospitals become, effectively, organs of the state--I noticed this very strange feeling when my wife was in the hospital giving birth to our daughter, that the staff appeared very much to think of themselves as authority figures of some kind, that we were somehow living by their leave. This is one of the pernicious (and entirely deliberate) effects of massive overregulation.

When doctors and nurses spend so much of their time carrying out the wishes of the government, they come to see their decisions (or even just their preferences) as bearing all the force of legal compulsion. So it is natural to them that they should call on the police to enforce their whims, and as more and more of society becomes more and more regulated in non-representative fashion, the police themselves are increasingly called on to bear out the wishes of administrators and bureaucrats, including nurses who think that your refusal to cooperate in filling out some form constitutes a criminal violation they are empowered to avenge on behalf of the state. This has an effect on the police themselves, of course, and it is a little-remarked-upon fact that the military and local police departments have been the particular target of the left's Gramscian march for decades. I've never met an agent of political correctness more pitiless or determined than a young military man availing himself of the GI Bill.

the staff appeared very much to think of themselves as authority figures of some kind, that we were somehow living by their leave.

Yep. When one of my children was born, I think it was child #3, I was asking when I would be discharged. I can't recall now whether I was asking when the baby would be discharged. Sometimes mine have stayed a few days longer than I for various minor reasons, entirely with my consent. Anyway, the nurse thought out loud for a moment and said something like, "Yes, I think that would be fine. You've had all of your training..." My jaw nearly dropped. I was already an experienced mother, and I regarded most of their silly little pamphlets, which they insisted on presenting to me chirpily and ceremoniously (if one can be chirpy and ceremonious at once) at intervals, as wastebasket fodder. The pamphlets included such brilliancies as the insistence that your baby must have no blanket whatsoever but must be placed with nothing but a sleeper suit to keep him warm into the bare crib lest he suffocate on the baby blanket. Perhaps the stores should be forbidden to sell baby blankets. But she had been taught that she was "training" me and that I couldn't be discharged until I had finished said "training."

Scott W., Parentalrights.org is a sort of spin-off group of the HSLDA. Their entire energies (as far as I know) are given to a parental rights U.S. Constitutional amendment. I would be interested to see them put some effort into CPS-restraining state legislation, which seems more realistic a goal as well as more subject to careful wording and hence less likely to make people go "Welllll..." than a U.S. constitutional amendment. Overall, though, their goal is to prevent _just_ this sort of thing. AFAIK, they don't represent individuals as legal counsel.

I remember that inane training as well. My wife was told she had to watch a video, said video containing advice that clearly could only have been directed at sub-moronic crack addicts. She and I still joke about one line that was unforgettable--and I pinky swear that I'm not making this up:

"Do not toss your baby."

I can't tell you how disappointed I was to find out that tossing my baby across the room was frowned upon by experts in such matters.

This article is a bit topical. It's war on drugs-related, but it's more about the willingness of the cops to chase down and terrorize young children who their police state tactics scared away.

Conservatives need to get over 9/11 and rediscover a genuine distrust for government and its armed thugs.

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