A few days ago, I read the story of Arizona parents of three, Sarah Beck and Brooks Bryce, whose unvaccinated two year old son had a very high fever. At about 5:00pm on February 25th, Ms. Beck took the boy to Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine’s clinic. She saw a doctor who was concerned that the boy might have meningitis because his fever was over 105 degrees.
The doctor told Beck that she should take her son to a local emergency room. Ms. Beck didn’t want to take the child to the ER because she was afraid staffers there would call CPS due to the child’s lack of vaccinations. The naturopathic doctor assured Beck that CPS would not be summoned. Beck then apparently relented, and the doctor advised her to take her son to a children’s hospital. The doctor then called the hospital and asked them to let her know when the mother and child arrived.
Ms. Beck then decided not to take her boy to the ER. She said his fever broke and he appeared to feel better. They went home. Meanwhile, the doctor she’d consulted got very worried when Beck didn’t visit the ER with her child. She called the police and asked the to do a wellness check. When the police showed up to do the check, Brooks Bryce, father of the two year old and his four and six year old siblings, refused to allow the police to see the child. He declined to take the child to the hospital, supposedly worried about the potentially high bill associated with an ER visit.
At 1:30am, the police showed up at the home again with a court order. Since Beck and Bryce still refused to cooperate, they broke down the door and seized all three of the children. The parents were ordered to come outside with their hands up, as police officers swarmed their home with guns drawn. They were arrested and, to this day, their kids remain in foster care. It was later determined that the boy and his sisters had a respiratory sickness.
I shared this story with friends. One friend felt the police were justified in breaking down the front door and hauling these parents to jail. Personally, I disagree. I think the way the police handled this case could ultimately do more harm than good.
As I was explaining why I feel this way, I was reminded of a post I wrote on my old blog about pregnant women being warned about their drug use at the doctor’s office. A doctor had posted a note in his office about how any pregnant woman who tested positive for drugs would be reported to the authorities. My immediate thought was that the doctor wasn’t actually interested in helping all pregnant women. He or she was probably more concerned about liability. A Facebook friend had posted a photo of the note, commending the doctor on his stance. But I got the feeling that she hadn’t considered what that attitude would actually mean for the developing fetus in the drug addicted mom. Pregnant women who abuse drugs still need medical care, probably even more than other pregnant women who don’t have addictions. Posting a sign that guarantees that the addicted mom will get in trouble with the law is pretty much a guarantee that she won’t seek medical help when she needs it.
In this case, Sarah Beck was afraid to visit the emergency room with her son. Why? Because she was under the impression that someone would call CPS on her for not having him vaccinated. Yes, the doctor did inform Beck that her child would not be seized, since Arizona allows parents to opt their children out of vaccinations for personal, religious, and medical reasons. But, for some reason, she was still afraid that her parental rights would be stripped from her. Ultimately, that is exactly what happened, even if it was because the parents refused to cooperate with the authorities. This case ended up being referenced on anti-vax sites contending that Arizona child protective services “sells” children into foster care. So what does that do? Now, more people are going to be convinced that seeking medical or police help will lead to arrest.
I certainly don’t condone the way Sarah Beck and Brooks Bryce behaved. I think they should have been much more cooperative. I have read about what the police found when they raided their home, and I’ve seen the video in which the police kicked in the front door. Yes, there was evidence that the children weren’t getting the best care. Vomit was found on the children’s beds and there was a lot of clutter. Particularly concerning was the fact that police found a shotgun in the parents’ nightstand, which reportedly wasn’t functional. For that reason, I can see why the police officers placed the father in handcuffs.
I also think that certain vaccines should be mandatory, unless a person can’t take them for medical reasons. While I’m generally whole-heartedly in favor of a person having complete rights to his or her bodily autonomy, this is a public health issue. People still die of communicable diseases like measles, and for some people who can’t be vaccinated, it’s a true matter of life and death that healthy people are immune and can’t spread the disease. I do think that not vaccinating children, especially for formerly rare illnesses like measles, mumps, and rubella, is stupid.
However, I think the heavy handed SWAT team approach to forcing people to accept “help” will ultimately do more harm than good. The fact is, the police as a whole in the United States have gotten a very bad reputation for acting like thugs. Quite a few people have been killed or injured in their dealings with police officers. This case, in which the mom did care enough about her child to seek medical help for him, only to lose custody of him and her other children after a police standoff, does not improve that tarnished image. Moreover, it did turn out the children weren’t that sick, and their father had a justifiable concern about how much an emergency room visit would cost. Medical care in the United States is extremely expensive, particularly for the many people who still lack adequate health insurance.
People should be able to count on medical people and police for help when they need it. I think most police officers and medical professionals care about the people they serve, but I can also see why some people justifiably fear them. It seems like in the United States these days, it’s all too easy to end up on the wrong side of the law. We incarcerate more people in our prisons, many of which are privately owned and operate for profit, than any other nation. Ultimately, I think the better goal is to try to keep families together and strive to support them, rather than threaten them.
While I grant that these parents weren’t cooperating with the authorities and something needed to be done, I also think that the children in this story will forever be left with the image of their parents being arrested and being sent to foster care in separate homes. That will probably cause lasting damage. What is also worrying is the perception among other people that if they seek help, they might eventually be arrested in a very dramatic way. It doesn’t help that in the United States today, people are very quick to call CPS for any reason at all. People have lost custody of their children simply for letting them walk to school by themselves or play alone in their front yards.
I did read that this couple had been in touch with CPS more than once. I do think that they should be investigated. I don’t agree with the super dramatic police response, though, especially since it’s now all over the media. Just my opinion. I feel like there should be more room for parents to exercise their judgment when it comes to taking care of their children, even if I can also see why the authorities were legitimately concerned in this case. The good news is, it looks like the children are back to normal health, even if they aren’t in their parents’ care.