Judge This: Is A 555lb 14 Year Old A Child Abuse Victim?

A really interesting legal and ethical debate, I lean towards no.

Authorities in South Carolina say that what went wrong was Gray’s care and feeding of her son, Alexander Draper. Gray, 49, of Travelers Rest, S.C., was arrested in June and charged with criminal neglect.

“There’s a strong likelihood that this kid is going to school and could eat whatever he wanted to at school, because you’ve got friends who will help him buy food or will give him their leftovers,” Varner says. “The big question is: What is this kid doing when he’s not in Mom’s care, custody and control?”

Greenville County School District spokesman Oby Lyles declined to comment.

“This is not a case of a mother force-feeding a child,” Varner says. “If she had been holding him down and force-feeding him, sure, I can understand. But she doesn’t have the means to do it. She doesn’t have the money to buy the food to do it.”

“What about the parents of every 16-year-old in Beverly Hills who’s too thin? Are they going to start arresting parents because their child is too thin?” he asks.

Jolene Puffer, a personal trainer in Asheville, N.C., says the problem often is parents “loving their kids to death,” especially in low-income families where food is one of the few things they can afford to give their children.

Ron Jones, a corporate wellness expert based in Atlanta and Los Angeles, uses the phrase “child obesity is child abuse” in his promotional materials and says the nation has turned its head the other way when it comes to accepting that concept.

“If you gave your child a drug, you’d be held in the court. But if you kill them with food, that seems to be acceptable,” he says.

The difficulty with prosecuting such cases is that most state laws require that the child’s health be in imminent danger for criminal charges to be filed, and the parent must be capable of helping the child but hasn’t taken the necessary action, says Richard Balnave, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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