A doctor urged an Arizona mom to take her sick unvaccinated 2-year-old to the hospital. When she failed to do so, the Chandler Police Department stepped in.

By Jenn Sinrich
April 02, 2019
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Police car at night.
Credit: Tiko Aramyan/Shutterstock

April 1, 2019

Making decisions in regards to the medical well-being of a child is difficult enough for any parent. Add in the interference of law enforcement and the decision gets even trickier. That is precisely what happened when one Arizona mom chose not to take her feverish son to the hospital after a doctor recommended she do so.

Sarah Beck's 2-year-old son was presenting with a temperature of more than 105 when she took him to Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe in February, according to NBC News. The doctor who examined the child suspected the culprit might be meningitis, a potentially life-threatening infection that affects the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can develop quickly and, if not treated, kill within hours.

Since the clinic couldn't test the toddler for the disease, the doctor instructed Beck take her son to the hospital. However, since her child wasn't vaccinated, Beck was reluctant to follow the doctor's orders for fear of "possible repercussions," a police report stated.

Later that day, upon learning the child never made it to the hospital, the doctor called the state Department of Child Safety which then contacted the Chandler Police Department in Chandler, Arizona, to report that there was "a present danger to health/wellbeing and that he required immediate medical attention."

Officers from the Chandler Police Department showed up to the Beck residence to "to conduct a welfare check." After several attempts to speak with the parents, officers clad in pistols and ballistic shields raided the parents' home where they found two other children in bedrooms "covered in stains of unknown origin," according to the police report.

The Chandler Police Department recently shared the video on its Facebook page and it quickly received more than 900 comments from viewers; some of them commended the officers, while others believe they were out of line.

"This is an absolute disgrace and the police department need to be held accountable. I am going to be all over our lawmakers to ensure something like this never happens again. Guns drawn at a mother and a sick infant? You have got to be kidding me," wrote one user.

Another said: "This is wrong on so many levels. We should be able to disagree with doctors without fear that CPS and cops will kick down our door and steal our children away."

As for the doctor who called the Department of Child Safety? While the precautions might seem a bit brash, it was her duty and obligation to go to these lengths to protect the child, according to Jen Trachtenberg, M.D., a pediatrician and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

"If the doctor examined the child and came to the decision that further evaluation, testing, and treatment needed to be done to rule out meningitis and the parents failed to comply with the doctor's recommendations in this emergent situation, then the doctor truly had no choice," says the author of The Smart Parent's Guide.

Ashanti Woods, M.D., a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, agrees. "When dealing with life-threatening and very serious illnesses, a doctor's direction to a family should be taken very seriously," he says. "In this situation, it appears that the physician was making an agreement with the family for them to head straight to the emergency department for further management of this child."

Had the child been vaccinated, the physician likely may have opted for a wait-and-see approach instead.

"The vaccines that children normally would have received by age 2 protect against meningitis and also pneumonia," explains Mary Ellen Rimsza, M.D., FAAP, chair of the advocacy committee of the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "If a child is unvaccinated, their physician will have greater concern about the possibility of these serious life-threatening [illnesses] as the cause of the fever and it will be more likely that their doctor will want to do additional tests."