An 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy was taken from his family and placed in foster care last month after county case workers said his mother wasn't doing enough to control his weight.What do you think? Should obese children be removed when the parents are not successful in getting them to lose weight?
At more than 200 pounds, the third-grader is considered severely obese and at risk for developing such diseases as diabetes and hypertension.
But even though the state health department estimates more than 12 percent of third-graders statewide are severely obese -- that could mean 1,380 in Cuyahoga County alone -- this is the first time anyone in the county or the state can recall a child being taken from a parent for a strictly weight-related issue.
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Cuyahoga County does not have a specific policy on dealing with obese children. It removed the boy because case workers considered this mother's inability to get her son's weight down a form of medical neglect, said Mary Louise Madigan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Family Services.
They said that the child's weight gain was caused by his environment and that the mother wasn't following doctor's orders -- which she disputes.
"This child's problem was so severe that we had to take custody," Madigan said. The agency worked with the mother for more than a year before asking Juvenile Court for custody of the child, she said.
Lawyers for the mother, a substitute elementary school teacher who is also taking vocational school classes, think the county has overreached in this case by arguing that medical conditions the boy is at risk for -- but doesn't yet have -- pose an imminent danger to his health.
They question whether the emotional impact of being yanked from his family, school and friends was also considered.
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Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that before a trend of removing children takes hold, the broader public-policy issue needs to be explored.
"A 218-pound 8-year-old is a time bomb," Caplan acknowledged. "But the government cannot raise these children. A third of kids are fat. We aren't going to move them all to foster care. We can't afford it, and I'm not sure there are enough foster parents to do it. "
He said he is worried that the families with the fewest resources, which are often minorities, will end up being ones with their children removed.
Caplan said one could get ethical whiplash in a world where one arm of government is so concerned about a child's weight that it removes him from his home, while another branch of government argues that french fries and tomato paste on pizza should be counted as servings of vegetables.
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