The new child abuse panic

Dr. Richard G. Boles, a mitochondrial disease specialist who has worked on some 100 cases involving suspected medical child abuse, said that only about five fit the classic Munchausen situation and should be considered abuse. Of the rest, he says, about two-thirds involved a demanding mother who got on a doctor’s nerves; the remainder involved a parent who was too anxious in dealing with doctors who couldn’t give adequate answers.

Compounding the problems with the overly broad definition of medical child abuse is the considerable misinformation spread by its proponents. In 2013, a governor’s task force in Michigan stated that “many cases of Medical Child Abuse go undetected because caregivers are skilled at deceiving the medical community.” No hard evidence, however, suggests that such parents are anything but rare. Medical child abuse is far more likely overcharged than undercharged.

The task force identified these warning signs of medical child abuse: a “highly attentive parent” who is “unusually reluctant to leave his/her child’s side”; a parent who “demands second and third opinions”; a parent who “is not relieved or reassured when presented with negative test results and resists having the child discharged from the hospital”; and a parent who has “unusually detailed medical knowledge.” These warning signs accurately describe many, if not most, loving parents of medically fragile children.