Mother of 555 Pound Boy Arrested for Medical Neglect

Filed under: In The News

Parents are being arrested for failing to seek medical care for their kids. Photo: Greenville Co Sheriff's Office/AP.

Alexander Deundray Draper is 14 years old; he weighs 555 pounds. Last week, Alexander's mother, Jerri Althea Gray, was arrested on a charge of medical neglect, for failing to get her son proper care. "The understanding was that the [Alexander] was of the weight where it was decided by medical authorities that he needed treatment that was not being provided for by his mother," Matt Armstrong, a spokesman for the Greenville County Sheriff's Office in Greenville, South Carolina, said. Alexander and his mother live in Travelers Rest, South Carolina; they were picked up in Baltimore, Maryland, after missing a family court appearance on May 19.

At the hearing, Alexander was ordered into state custody, both because of his weight and his mother's failure to appear in court. State officials have said that Alexander "is possibly at a stage of critical health risk."

Jerri Gray isn't the only parent in trouble with the law for neglecting her child's health. Daniel Hauser and his mother, Colleen, have been in the news this past week as well; Daniel, who is 13, has Hodgkin's lymphoma. His parents had decided not to pursue further treatment for his cancer, despite the fact that a tumor in his chest has grown larger since January, when Daniel was first diagnosed. The tumor is pressing against his chest wall, at the site where a port was installed for a previous round of chemotherapy. Daniel has told his doctors that he is in pain and is having trouble breathing.

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Colleen Hauser and her son disappeared from their Minnesota home on Monday, after a doctor's appointment; they were located in California yesterday and have returned home -- and have agreed to allow Daniel to have chemotherapy. The Hausers belong Nemenhah, a Native American spiritual organization that the family says advocates for only natural healing methods. Daniel Hauser told a judge that he believed chemotherapy was poison. If he was ordered to resume chemo, he said, "I'd fight it. I'd punch them and I'd kick them." But yesterday, the family reversed its decision and agreed to let Daniel receive treatment.

The state of Minnesota asked for Daniel to be removed from his parents' custody because of fears that they would, once again, stop Daniel's treatment. "They are unable to show any type of consistency," Brown County Attorney Jim Olson said. "Their attitiude has been and I am assuming remains that chemo is poison. So I felt that with that underlying attitude that certainly wasn't going to be beneficial to Danny in trying to convince him to undergo chemotherapy." The judge disagreed and sent Daniel home with his parents.

What if the Hausers do not follow through with Daniel's treatment? They could wind up charged with something more serious than medical neglect.

In Wisconsin, 41-year-old Leilani Neumann is on trial for the March 2008 death of her 11-year-old daughter, Madeline Kara. Neumann is charged with second-degree homicide; Madeline died from complications of untreated juvenile diabetes. Instead of treating her daughter's illness with medication, Neumann treated it with prayer, believing that God would heal her daughter.

It's unclear how Alexander Draper wound up weighing over 500 pounds; what is clear is that states are holding parents responsible for guarding their children's health, and are taking medical neglect seriously. I am both baffled and saddened by all three of these stories, because I cannot wrap my head around the idea that a parent would willfully reject medical treatment for a child, particularly when that treatment has been shown to be effective. I can perhaps most easily put myself in the Hauser's shoes; chemo can be difficult, particularly for children, and it must be wrenching to watch your child go through that. But the alternative -- not treating the cancer at all -- is unfathomable to me. If there was even a small chance that this treatment would cure my child, I could not walk away from it.

At what point, then, does the state or the court have a right to step in and declare that a parent's care of the child is creating a medical emergency? Does the state have that right? Or should parents be the last word in what constitutes appropriate care for their children? In Alexander Draper's case, the state has chosen to be proactive; in Madeline Neumann's case, they are stepping in too late. Is there a middle ground?

What do you think -- are you the last word in what medical treatment your child receives, or should the state have the right to overrule parents who are neglecting their children's health?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.