Monday, March 31, 2008

Governmental Parenting Standards

In Parents pick prayer over docs; girl dies, Nicholas Provenzo discusses the role of the parents’ faith in the death of an eleven year old girl. As the post and subsequent comments elaborate, the question becomes one not solely of mysticism vs. science, but of individual rights: the parents’ versus the child’s. This is a fascinating subject to me and one about which I have more questions than answers the more I explore it.

I have posted on the role of parents as educators
here regarding objective standards in government of monitoring or intervention in the education of children. Given that government schools don’t seem to be losing any strength of entrenchment within our society, the premise of mere government oversight is an illusory one at this point in time. However, it is still worth attempting to define by what possible political philosophy could government standards regarding the education of a child be enforced under the umbrella of the individual rights of the child as applied against those of the parents to make choices for their children. It is worth defining the standard because I suspect that exact same standard could apply to the continuation of the child’s life as well.

In the matter of physical abuse, where there is physically identifiable damage, or in the case of criminal neglect, again, where there is physically definable damage, there is no question that the parents have violated the individual rights of the child and should be punished under objective law. In the first case, his parents have used force to restrain him from or require him to do something. In the second, the child has been forcibly denied the right to food and shelter, those things required to be provided by the parents of the very young in order for them to live.

Beyond these obvious examples, however, where do we draw the line between parental choice and child abuse? Between parenting style and government intervention? Between the ability to gather empirical evidence, to think, to understand and the need for the government to impose standards by which all men will be better able to gather, think, and understand?

By what objective standard does the moral obligation of the parents become the domain of government?

The danger here, as I see it, is that in calling the parents’ decision to appeal to mysticism rather than science child abuse, we will make laws
“respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. How soon after these rights are breached will new laws be used against people of reason?

In my
last post, I did call out the curator as heroic not only because he rose above his strictly “new earth” Christian upbringing, but also because he recognized that despite the differences (okay, more like horrid perversions of scientific ideas) the Biblically Correct tours presented, we are in America. People are free to not only practice, but further spread this faith, no matter how perverted and in some cases, anti-life it is, to their children.

Knowing that man is a rational being who needs only the freedom to observe things, use his mind, and make his own decisions in order to learn which choices will sustain his life, and that most rational men view providing for their children within their rational self-interest, I am confident that most men who operate rationally will live a decent life. Of course it could be argued that he might die trying, but that is no reason to replace his individual sovereignty with government oversight. You can't mandate the stupid out of people.

I’m obviously still working on these ideas, but so far, I just can’t justify in any form, government enforced parenting standards.


Nicholas Provenzo said...

A proper law exists to protect objectively established individual rights; beyond that, it offers no particular prescription for what actions a person ought to take in their life.

Thus if a parent's actions (or failure to act) causes harm to or the death of one of their minor children, a proper law would punish that violation of rights. A minor child requires parental leadership and support; if a parent, for whatever reason, is derelict in this responsibility to the point that an action (or failure to act) causes physical harm to the child, justice to the child demands that they parent be held responsible under the law.

I think where some people get lost is the difference between things that are irrational and bad and things that actually rise to the level of physical force. For example, I think that progressive education is immoral and stunts the intellectual development of those who receive it, but I also recognize that it cannot be made illegal; the mere fact that someone's child receives a progressive education is not an act of force.

In contrast, a parent who withholds medical treatment for their child because of their irrational views is actively harming the physical well-being of the child. In this light, some choices are so brazenly wrong and result in such egregious physical harm that they must be punished as such.

So to answer your concern, in an individual rights republic, yes, you are certainly free to practice your religion all the live-long day, but you have no right to turn that practice into something that violates the rights of others (including even your children). If your wish is to have children and then deny them what they need to even live, don't expect to find an ally in the law.

LB said...

Thank you very much for your response.

You have articulated the point much better than I was able to.

I was wary of linking education with medical services under the banner of individual rights for children as provided by their parents, but they both struck me as instructing parents how to provide for their children. You are right - following an irrational viewpoint in these two areas can cause two very different outcomes – one might cause the child years of hard work to overcome, and the other, physical harm or death. Therein lies the objectively definable violation of individual rights.

Would justice require that we define the mother’s views as irrational before she is found guilty of neglect?

Nicholas Provenzo said...

> Would justice require that we define the mother’s views as irrational before she is found guilty of neglect?

Good question. In the case we have been discussing, irrationality is the cause of this kind of neglect, but it is strictly the effect that is punished under the law. After all, in the scenario we are discussing here, the child is denied proper medial care that leads to suffering and death. In this context of our example, proper medical care is a clear value that the parent deliberately withholds, yet we cannot punish the parents merely for being Christian mystics; we must punish them for failing to care for their child as a rational person living on this Earth must.

That said, there could be exculpatory circumstances that might mitigate or outright absolve a parent's criminal liability for a charge of neglect. For example, we could be faced with a scenario where a parent is unable to provide care or mistakenly fails to provide care due to economic circumstance or not correctly recognizing the severity of their child's illness. The effect could be the same, but the cause is different and has to be judged accordingly.

So to answer your question, I think a proper justice system has to examine the full context behind a charge of parental neglect, almost the same way it does when it must determine whether a person who causes the death of another is guilty of manslaughter or outright murder (and if there is enough evidence to support a conviction).

LB said...

Thanks for your insight. It's really helpful.

LB said...

Here's an update on the mother's conviction.