Concerns over parental rights violations are being raised as a group of families in Chicago files a lawsuit saying their newborns were wrongly taken from them when they declined a voluntary Vitamin K shot.
Among the couples filing the suit are Brian and Angela Bougher. The Boughers’ fifth child, Glori, was born February 2018 at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox.
The couple is opposed to the Vitamin K shot routinely given to newborns in the U.S. to prevent rare but serious internal bleeding. They told the Chicago Tribune that “if God created every baby with a certain amount of vitamin K, then that’s what they need at birth.”
Barring any difficulties with delivery, the Boughers did not want their newborn to receive the Vitamin K shot. According to their lawsuit, they checked with several hospital officials before the due date, and were told they could decline the shot and complete a form noting their religious objections to it.
But once the baby was born, Angela says a doctor called her beliefs “stupid” and “wrong” and then removed her newborn baby from her for about 12 hours and called the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to report parental neglect.
Babies are often born with low Vitamin K levels. Because of this, Vitamin K has been given regularly to newborns in the U.S. since 1960, to prevent Vitamin K deficiency bleeding, a rare but fatal condition which can occur in a baby’s intestines or brain.
In 2015, the Illinois DCFS classified the Vitamin K shot as medically necessary and refusal was considered an indicator of parental neglect.
But last year, that policy was rescinded, to ensure that the government was not overstepping the boundaries of parental rights. “Making that kind of determination falls outside the confines of our statutory and professional mission and judgment,” acting director Beverly Walker said in a memo at the time.
Angela told the Chicago Tribune that she was shocked and traumatized when her baby was taken away from her.
“I felt a little bit like a prisoner,” she said. “It was like they had condemned me and I had done something wrong and atrocious, but I didn’t know what that was so I couldn’t really fix it, and no one would really talk through the issue.”
The Boughers are among several parents with similar experiences who filed a lawsuit on Sept. 23 against the Department of Children and Family Services, several of the agency’s officials, and a number of local hospitals and doctors.
The families are seeking monetary restitution and punitive damages for their traumatic experiences and hope to prevent other parents from undergoing a similar situation.
Lucia Silecchia, a human rights law professor at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that the parents and their children were robbed of essential bonding moments.
“The parents in this case were deprived of a critically important bonding time with their new infant. Their daughter, likewise, missed out on early hours in the embrace of her parents and with the full nourishment of her mother,” she said.
Silecchia said this case differs from other controversial cases where parents have declined vaccines or chemotherapy, because the threat of harm from declining the shot is very low.
“First, unlike the vaccine cases, this does not involve a threat to public health and welfare such as that which can result from the spread of infectious diseases,” she said. “Second, unlike the cases in which parents decline blood transfusions or chemotherapy for their ill child, this case did not involve a child who was ill in any way.”
“Absent a threat to public health or a specific harm to an ill child, the interest of the state seems to be weaker. Here, the parents faced dramatic consequences for failure to consent to a routine course of treatment that their child may or may not have needed.”
Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, also voiced concern about the case, saying it “has the gravest consequences for the rights of parents and the autonomy of the family.”
In an Oct. 2 statement, Boquet said hospital officials knew the shot was determined to be medically non-necessary, and that while they may have believed their actions were right, “[t]hey robbed Brian and Angela of their natural rights, and established the state as the final arbiter.”
The priest stressed that parents have a fundamental right to care for their children in the way that they believe is best.
“This is a human rights issue; parents should not be excluded from making critical decisions that impact the health and future of their children,” he said.