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Parents Need -- And Have -- The Right To Make Mistakes


Do parents have the right to make a mistake?

That's the question at hand when we talk about medication and surgery for gender dysphoria in children. But it's not an issue that begins when kids enter puberty. Parents start making high-stakes medical decisions, ones that have lifelong consequences, virtually the moment their children are born.

One of the first, in fact, is whether to allow a simple shot of vitamin K.

The bacteria in your lower intestines make the vitamin, a nutrient essential for blood clotting, but newborns don't have much of the good bacteria. Breast milk can give some vitamin K but not always enough, so doctors give babies a quick injection of it in the first six hours of life.

Without that shot, a baby can have dangerous, even deadly brain bleeds up until six months of age.

It's the most harmless, one-time medical intervention -- a shot of a vitamin that already occurs naturally in the body -- but after one study in the 1990s found a link between vitamin K and childhood cancer (results, mind you, never found again despite decades of trying), it became fashionable among the anti-vax set to decline the shot.


Despite hue and cry from doctors about the terrible, preventable aftereffects, refusal rates are increasing.

But courts in this country have said, again and again, that parents have the inalienable right to make the wrong decision.

In 1972, the Supreme Court found that parents have a fundamental right over "the companionship, care, custody and management" of their children. In most cases, the bar for the government to step in and overrule a parental decision is high. So high, in fact, that you must prove a parent unfit.

In many states, though, the proper order has been reversed. It's not the judgment of parents that's held as primary in determining a child's care, but that of the government.


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