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Child abuse investigation for RFK's son after hospital scuffle seems unwarranted

April 4, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Should hospital nurses be able to stop a father who wants to take his healthy newborn baby out of a hospital nursery for a bit of fresh air on the hospital patio?

That's apparently what happened in January in White Plains, N.Y. to Douglas Kennedy, a journalist and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, when he decided to take his new son off the maternity ward. Two nurses tried to stop him from taking baby Boru and claim Kennedy physically assaulted them, twisting one's arm and kicking another. Kennedy claims he was trying to protect his son as the nurses tried to grab the baby from his arms. Kennedy was arrested and charged with physical harassment for what he allegedly did to the nurses and child endangerment for trying to take Boru outside.

"Our simple desire to take our son outside for fresh air has been warped into a charge of child endangerment," Kennedy and his wife Molly said in February.

New York's child protection agency was notified and investigated the Kennedys for child abuse. An Associated Press story on Wednesday said that the agency found no signs of child abuse, but Kennedy is still facing the harassment and child endangerment charges. Kennedy's lawyer said in a statement that he hopes the D.A. will drop all the charges.

First of all, I don't think there's much doubt that Kennedy probably should have handed the baby over instead of engaging in a physical scuffle with the nurses. What he did was unwise, since the baby boy could easily have been accidentally hit or dropped by any of the parties involved during the argument. I'd also question whether he was wise to take a newborn outside in 50 degree temperatures, even though he does say the mother knew what he was doing and he had asked someone on the ward for permission. He was probably breaking a lot of hospital regulations, since babies are usually transported in bassinets and aren't carried in anyone's arms while in the hospital. Hospital officials are too afraid of getting sued. Hospital regulations won't even let the mother carry the baby out of the hospital at checkout time. She has to be wheeled out to the car and nurses at many hospitals check to see that the baby has been correctly fastened into a car seat.

Even if Kennedy did violate several hospital policies, I don't think they're state law or that breaking them qualifies as child endangerment. He's still that child's father. It's pretty disturbing that the nurses tried to physically stop Kennedy from carrying his son outside in the first place. If they were that concerned, they should have simply summoned hospital security.

This, like the case of Jodi and Scott Ferris in Pennsylvania, who briefly lost custody of their newborn daughter in 2010 when Jodi Ferris allegedly didn't give consent to a Vitamin K and Hep B shot right away, seems like a case where medical professionals have seriously overstepped their bounds. As the child's father, Kennedy should have had every right to take his child and the nurses did not have a right to physically prevent him from doing so.

New York is also apparently one of a handful of states which mandates that newborns receive a Vitamin K shot and eye drops at birth. Hospitals are instructed to give them to babies even if the parents object and, if the parents do object, it is an automatic call to child welfare authorities. That particular law -- though not one that has anything to do with the Kennedy case -- has also got to set up an adversarial relationship between doctors and new parents.

A little more respect for parental rights all the way around seems to be in order.


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