A Seminole County mother narrowly escaped losing permanent custody of her child in a case where immediate use of Florida’s Informed Consent laws might have avoided the ordeal she did experience.
Sarah Markham is a vegan and a practicing Seventh Day Adventist. She wished to raise her son Caleb on a vegan diet as she does not believe in eating animal products.
When Caleb was about 2 weeks old, her physician recommended supplementing her breast milk with formula as the baby had lost part of his birth weight. He ordered her to take the baby to the hospital and to use the prescribed formula containing animal products that would be available there.
Instead Sarah stayed home and gave Caleb an organic vegan soy milk based formula.
The result? When Markham didn’t show up at the hospital for her appointment to get the prescribed formula, police came to her apartment and put her in handcuffs.
Sarah’s doctor had reported her to Child Protective Services who then called the police to arrest her for child neglect. They took 12-day-old Caleb.
Fortunately, they gave the baby to Sarah’s parents rather than a state medical facility. The grandparents just continued feeding Caleb the organic vegan formula and he thrived on it and went back to normal weight for his age.
CCHR Florida continually educates parents on their rights under the Florida Department of Health, Division of Medical Quality Assurance (381.026 Florida Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities)
They explain that “Every individual has the basic human right to be informed about the medical treatment or procedure that is being proposed to them.”
The key principles that comprise Informed Consent are:
- The proposed Treatment
- The purpose of the treatment to be provided
- The common risks
- Side effects
- The specific dosage range for the medication, when applicable
- Alternative treatment modalities
- The approximate length of care
- The potential effects of stopping treatment
- How treatment will be monitored
- That any consent given for treatment may be revoked orally or in writing before or during the treatment period by the patient or by a person who is legally authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of the patient
The physician in Sarah’s case did not offer “alternative treatment modalities” and ignored her attempt to suggest an alternative based on her dietary knowledge and her religious beliefs.
As far back as June of 2001 The Journal of the American Dietetic Association in a study called “Considerations in Planning Vegan Diets: Infants” reported that:
“Appropriately planned vegan diets can satisfy nutrient needs of infants. The American Dietetic Association and The American Academy of Pediatrics state that vegan diets can promote normal infant growth. It is important for parents to provide appropriate foods for vegan infants, using guidelines like those in this article. Key considerations when working with vegan families include composition of breast milk from vegan women, appropriate breast milk substitutes, supplements, type and amount of dietary fat, and solid food introduction.”
If Sarah had presented a copy of Informed Consent to the physician and insisted on her rights perhaps things would have gone differently.
“There’s no case, there’s no abuse, there’s no neglect, there’s simply a doctor who has been challenged by a mother and he didn’t like it,’ Grandfather Bo Markham stated. Both grandparents believe Sarah is a superb mother.
Yet because she chose not to take her son to the hospital, Markham was only allowed to see her son during supervised visits and only a few times a week, according to Seminole County Child Protective Services.
Her lawyer said that Sarah did everything else CPS asked her to do including Mental health evaluations, drug evaluations, and parenting classes.
‘My client can only see her child once a week or twice a week because they’re requiring the child be out of the county,’ he said prior to Markham regaining custody.
In this case, her lawyer helped save the day. Custody of Caleb was returned to Sarah and she and her child were reunited after six months. Sarah had to promise to meet regularly with a state appointed nutritionist.
The criminal charges of child neglect were dropped “because the Florida Department of Children and Families dismissed its case.”
The state clearly had no case and perhaps could have been sued if they had pressed it further.
Sarah Markham’s baby was fortunately cared for by loving grandparents while Sarah was managing to re-unite her family by submitting to “Mental health evaluations, drug evaluations, and parenting classes”. It could have been a lot worse had the medical establishment and the State of Florida chosen to put all their financial muscle behind prosecuting this mother.
Sarah’s experience is a good reminder to all parents to learn, understand and use their patient rights as described in the concept of Informed Consent.