Are parents who take their sick children for unproven treatments guilty of abuse?

There is medical tourism to locations that provide state of the art medical treatment and there is medical tourism to sites that promise cutting edge treatments that don’t work. This Harvard panel discusses the issue and one professor calls for drastic measures.

‘Stem cell tourism’ growing trend: Panel decries overseas clinics that provide treatments devoid of scientific validity

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of desperate people are flocking to clinics that charge tens of thousands of dollars for every unproven treatment. That “stem cell tourism” was the subject of a panel discussion titled “Stem Cell Therapy and Medical Tourism: Of Promise and Peril?” presented Wednesday by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics.

[T]he overseas clinics selling stem cell therapy for a sweeping catalog of diseases aren’t offering patients places in clinical trials. They are touting what they claim are established treatments, with proven results.

Glenn Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, suggested a drastic way to slow stem cell tourism – prosecute for child abuse when the treatment involves minors. He says he is sympathetic to parents who believe they are helping their children, but that that pediatricians in the United States should try to convince parents to use proven therapies, dissuade them from using unproven therapies, and then threaten to report them to the authorities for abuse.

This brings up a huge list of questions including those about ethics, parental rights and what constitutes a questionable treatment. Would it be Burzynski’s clinic? It certainly is an unproven treatment.

Seeking experimental treatments: There is a difference between conventional trials and unconventional clinics .

Tip: Pete Ford

  4 comments for “Are parents who take their sick children for unproven treatments guilty of abuse?

  1. J
    December 4, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I would not say abuse, but neglect could be argued where lack of comprehensive care in concered, albeit ironically counterintuitive. That is a truly interesting question to ponder for a headline, though, so good job on that at least.

  2. Phil
    December 4, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Problematic. What if the therapy is later proven to be beneficial? I never saw the movie Lorenzo’s Oil, but sometimes therapies are later found effective. What if parents go to jail and then we find the treatment worked? Will the state recompense? And what if the child died and its found out the therapy could have saved its life? What about non prescribed drug therapies? Therapies approved in other countries but not here? Gets messy.

  3. Mr. Shreck
    December 5, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    As another angle on the topic, I saw part of a TV news story the other day about a parent who checked their kid out of cancer treatment against medical advice and there were questions whether she should be pursued / charged. At first, it seems awful that a parent would deny their kid treatment, but when you consider the torture that children can be subjected to in the name of what may just be prolonging their life only to suffer more, it starts to look a little different. I sincerely hope I never have to make any decisions of this kind.

  4. Mike Y.
    December 5, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    One thing to keep in mind is that there are two categories of “alternative therapies”; there are those which have NOT been proven effective, and there are those which HAVE been proven ineffective. I can sympathize with desperate parents who have exhausted other possibilities and turn to the first category; if my child was dying and “mainstream” medicine just plain wasn’t working, I might be willing to try something unproven just because there would be nothing to lose by it.

    The truly abusive cases are the ones where traditional, scientifically proven medical options are available and the parents choose to use something like homeopathy instead, thereby needlessly putting the child at risk. In a case like this, I would say that the parents are guilty of neglect.

    Finally, I would say that it sets a double-standard if we were to start prosecuting the parents for abuse in these cases, but allow the practitioners to continue without pressing charges against them for fraud.

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