When the state took young David Fink away from his parents after they had snatched him from Primary Children's Medical Center five years ago, there were no outcries from the public that the state had no right. Fink's parents, you'll recall, had kept the boy on a diet of watermelon and lettuce, claiming that was what their religious beliefs required.
After four months in a Montana forest, they were captured and charged with kidnapping. The malnourished son was taken into custody and the parents eventually were convicted. No parental-rights groups protested on their behalf. No one claimed the state was interfering with their religion.
Maybe that's because David looked like a concentration-camp victim. We could see his distress. We could feel his neglect. If a child cannot count on his parents for survival, the state has a right to step in. State law puts a high value on life, and it particularly recognizes how vulnerable minors are.
Which brings us to Daren and Barbara Jensen. Their 12-year-old son, Parker, was diagnosed last May with Ewing's sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer. The widely accepted treatment for this is chemotherapy. But, rather than submit to this, they left the state in search of other therapies. Chemotherapy could render the boy sterile and stunt his growth, they said.
For this, the Salt Lake County district attorney's office charged the parents with kidnapping, unleashing a torrent of protests from rights groups and concerned citizens. Late in the week, the state was still negotiating for a rational conclusion that would bring the boy back from Idaho.
So, what is the difference between the Finks and the Jensens? In the state's eyes, there is none. A boy is in trouble, and his parents won't help.
In the public's eyes, there is plenty. We see Parker on television, dunking basketballs off a trampoline, all full of smiles and giggles like any other 12-year-old boy. But then, not only does Parker not look like David Fink, his parents don't look like David's parents, either. The Finks looked and acted like wild-eyed zealots. The Jensens are the average people next door in any middle-class neighborhood. They want what is best for their child, otherwise they wouldn't have gone to a doctor in the first place when the boy developed a tumor on his tongue.
And so we see ourselves in them. And we also virtually every one of us can think of at least a relative or friend who was, at one time or another, misdiagnosed or had a bad experience with a doctor.
And yet we must understand that if we spank the state and let the Jensens do as they please with Parker, we will be setting a dangerous precedent. We will be striking a blow against the sanctity of life every bit as much as if we had legalized assisted suicide or human cloning.
There is a difference, all right, between David Fink and Parker Jensen. It is that Jensen is suffering from something microscopic. You can't see it wasting away his body. You don't see him strapped to a railroad track with a locomotive bearing down.
But it is there. Here is what doctors believe, according to a statement from the guardian ad litem, the state representative assigned to look out for Parker's needs: "These microscopic cancer cells cannot be detected, but the medical statistics show that these cells are present in the vast majority of cases. If chemotherapy is initiated before the cancer cells spread, Parker's chance of survival is 70 percent. If chemotherapy is initiated after the cancer cells spread, his chance of survival decreases to around 20 percent."
All David Fink needed was some nourishment. Parker Jensen needs something much more difficult and painful, and without it he likely will die.
So what will it be? Do we trust the established medical profession, or do we succumb to conspiracy theories and worries about jack-booted government thugs? Do we let parents submit their children to unproven procedures while precious time ticks away?
- Doug Robinson: Utah man's new running shoe...
- Timothy R. Clark: Graduation advice for my...
- Letters: Threats justified
- My view: Nothing sinister about Common Core
- Snapshot of 2013 in political cartoons
- State pensions threaten to bleed states dry
- In our opinion: New leader in Iran, but...
- In our opinion: Limit the power of the...
- Letters: Stop the witch hunt 35
- John Florez: Show leadership on... 31
- Supreme Court, Congress, citizens: The... 27
- Letter: Media failure 25
- Robert Bennett: Sticking to facts is... 23
- Letters: Threats justified 23
- In our opinion: Limit the power of the... 18
- Doug Robinson: Utah man's new running... 17