HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Parents and Health Care Issues

The Boston Globe reports on a tragic case of an austic boy with leukemia whose mother apparently failed to follow a specific treatment regime and now faces jail time.  The parents are divorced, their relationship is strained and it is rather difficult to figure out what really happened and what the circumstances were surrounding the mother's ability to comply with the medical treatment doctors had recommended for her child.  John R. Ellement and Carey Goldberg write,

Eric J. Fraser wrapped his burly arms yesterday around the slight figure of his 8-year-old son, Jeremy, who doctors say will soon die, . . .   Fraser spoke one day after his former wife and Jeremy's mother, Kristen A. LaBrie, was arraigned in Salem District Court on one count of child endangerment. . . .

In a report filed in court, Salem police alleged that LaBrie delayed chemotherapy appointments a dozen times, disrupting a carefully scheduled treatment plan.  She also failed to administer home doses of the chemotherapy and to collect prescriptions at the drugstore, police said.  "Due to Ms. LaBrie's failure to provide Jeremy with his life-saving cancer medication, his cancer has returned," police wrote.  "His cancer has returned quicker and stronger than under ordinary circumstances. He now has been diagnosed with a 10 percent chance of survival."

According to Fraser, police reports, and records in Essex Probate and Family Court, Jeremy Fraser was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and was to be treated at Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors told Fraser his son had a good prognosis.  The child now has fully developed leukemia . . . .

In mid-February, when LaBrie brought Jeremy to MGH for a routine appointment, doctors determined that he was not getting the care he needed and was in danger if he was allowed to return home with his mother. MGH alerted both Fraser and the Department of Social Services.

A DSS spokeswoman said yesterday that the child protection agency had been involved with the family in the past, but terminated its involvement in 2005. DSS became involved again after MGH stepped in.  Fraser said he has no idea why his former wife allegedly decided not to get her son medical care.   Dr. Robert Sege, medical director of the child protection team at Boston Medical Center, said there may be many reasons why a parent does not make sure a child gets treatment.  The parent may simply not understand how serious the consequences can be, said Sege, who played no role in Jeremy Fraser's case.  Also, he said, "people have real issues with the logistics of life - with transportation, with child care. Life doesn't stop just because you have a chronically ill kid."  Caring for an ill child is no easy job, he said.

"Families with healthy kids and working parents are stressed out as a baseline, and add to that going to multiple doctors' appointments, keeping track, being on time, making a child take a medication they may not want, and sometimes with chemo, the child is uncomfortable. All the chronic diseases of childhood are really difficult for families."  But ultimately, Sege said, "the bottom line is that the child needs to get lifesaving care." . . .

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