homepage logo

Garvey: Parents need – and have – the right to make mistakes

By Georgia Garvey - | Apr 23, 2024

Do parents have the right to make a mistake?

That’s the question at hand when we talk about medication and surgery for gender dysphoria in children. But it’s not an issue that begins when kids enter puberty. Parents start making high-stakes medical decisions, ones that have lifelong consequences, virtually the moment their children are born.

One of the first, in fact, is whether to allow a simple shot of vitamin K.

The bacteria in your lower intestines make the vitamin, a nutrient essential for blood clotting, but newborns don’t have much of the good bacteria. Breast milk can give some vitamin K but not always enough, so doctors give babies a quick injection of it in the first six hours of life.

Without that shot, a baby can have dangerous, even deadly brain bleeds up until six months of age.

It’s the most harmless, one-time medical intervention — a shot of a vitamin that already occurs naturally in the body — but after one study in the 1990s found a link between vitamin K and childhood cancer (results, mind you, never found again despite decades of trying), it became fashionable among the anti-vax set to decline the shot.

Despite hue and cry from doctors about the terrible, preventable aftereffects, refusal rates are increasing.

But courts in this country have said, again and again, that parents have the inalienable right to make the wrong decision.

In 1972, the Supreme Court found that parents have a fundamental right over “the companionship, care, custody and management” of their children. In most cases, the bar for the government to step in and overrule a parental decision is high. So high, in fact, that you must prove a parent unfit.

In many states, though, the proper order has been reversed. It’s not the judgment of parents that’s held as primary in determining a child’s care, but that of the government.

Idaho, for example, passed a highly restrictive law last year that prevents medical treatment for gender dysphoria — hormones, puberty blockers or surgery — for anyone younger than 18.

“These procedures have lifelong, irreversible consequences, with more and more minors voicing their regret for taking this path,” Alan Hurst, Idaho’s solicitor general, wrote to the U.S. Supreme Court in requesting to implement the law, which had been put on hold by a lower court.

The law, named the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act,” “seeks to protect children with gender dysphoria from medical and surgical interventions that can cause permanent damage to their bodies before they are mature enough to make such serious health decisions,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little wrote in signing the bill.

But even if Little were right, about any child in any situation getting any kind of hormone, puberty blocker or surgery, that would still not be good enough.

Because no child is “mature enough” to make serious health decisions. That’s why they’ve got parents, who have “vulnerable child protection” in their job descriptions. In denying medical treatments that parents choose, let alone treatments that have been recommended and provided by licensed medical professionals, the government has stolen parents’ jobs.

If parents in Idaho can circumcise their babies for aesthetic reasons; if they can spank their children or decline vaccines or reject a necessary vitamin shot that has no more risk than the pain of the injection, then surely parents must also be able to choose medical gender treatments they believe necessary for their kids’ emotional and mental well-being.

This is all to say nothing of the fact that parents may (and often do) choose correctly, that they actually know what is best for their child and know best how to care for them — better, even, than do politicians in a state legislature jockeying for reelection.

Because even when a parent turns out to be wrong, it’s their duty to bear the weight of it either way.

Research — unbiased, robust — should continue on the long-term consequences of medical treatment for children with gender dysphoria. And parents who must make their decisions now should be told the unvarnished truth of the questions that surround if or how that treatment will permanently change their children’s bodies and minds.

But all parents are faced with the most delicate and constant of balancing acts. We weigh on our scales innumerable and crucial factors like our children’s lives, their health, their sanity, their future and their self-confidence. We consider. We agonize.

And, ultimately, we choose.

When parents choose wrongly (and we do), we suffer. The government has no right to compound that suffering by taking the choice away from us.

To learn more about Georgia Garvey, visit GeorgiaGarvey.com.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)