John Livingston

Our Children Belong to us, not the State

I had the opportunity last week to interview my former high school principal who is well over 90 years old. Truly a great man who had a significant impact on my life. His mind was keen as ever and as always, his wisdom was piercing and provocative. The article that I interviewed him for appeared in this week’s Gem State Patriot. It had to do with the intrusion of teachers and those in the medical professions into the lives of young children and their parents. It was written and published before the baby Cyrus case. The wisdom that he provided to me is also applicable to what we see happening today in that case. In both situations we see a clash of cultures. Conservative Christians believe that children are a gift from God that they hold in sacred trust. God gives children to parents along with the responsibilities that come with that great gift. Many educators and those in the medical professions believe their authority either to educate or take care of children is derived from government fiat. They confuse moral and legal predicates. Unfortunately, the only moral bases for an action for many people is The Law. Without understanding the underlying moral predicate—for those practicing situational ethics there is none so they must rely on “feelings” which can change from instant to instant. What happened in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany with the imprisonment and then killing of 70 million people was immoral—but legal. The moral predicate for The Law is the bases of its legitimacy.

When I arrived in Boise thirty-three years ago after serving as a physician and surgeon in the military for 12 years, I wanted to find a Catholic Hospital where my Christian faith and values would be respected. The Catholic Sisters at Al’s provided such an environment including facilitating daily Mass. Several years later I also joined the staff at St. Luke’s where I found a warm reception from many Christian physicians and nurses. The administrators at Luke’s Gill Gilbertson and Ed Dahlberg were also men of great faith and our values and the institutional goals of the organization that they led also lined up perfectly with mine.

But in the early nineties the corporate values and a corporate culture took over the Christian values of both institutions. I was informed onetime by a CEO at Al’s—not a Sister she, “John—No margin, no mission”. The jobs of these multibillion-dollar revenue producing organizations became centered on profit and revenues. Legal teams were formed to change Idaho laws that allowed for the “Corporate Practice of Medicine”. Most physicians who loved practicing medicine and had spent one third of their lives studying for the privilege had little time to get involved in medical politics or economics. Before they knew it physicians who were marginal clinicians opted out of medicine and became middle manager heads of “product lines”. At Al’s, the Festival of Trees that was started out with the good intention of giving back to the community, has ended up as a way to subsidize various departments within the hospital and they still consider this self-funding as a “community benefit”. One of the large hospitals tried to count wages, salaries, and benefits as a community benefit—they got caught and this practice has stopped.

My high school principal had thoughts that help us define the doctor patient and the student teacher relationship. In his words one can see an obligation that is not practiced today. For a Christian physician, the doctor patient relationship was a Covenant relationship that God was party to.

Same with teachers in our Catholic school system for the most part. Many teachers in the public schools still feel the same way but they are now becoming a minority. This same Covenant relationship defines all our transactions in life and is the bases of Christian Biblical Justice Theory that is far more demanding than man made “Social Justice” constructs.

The question really is “Who do you serve” The answer to that question then defines how you serve. When I asked Mr. Shelby my former principle about how he would handle a situation involving some high school kids who were found with pornography his answer defined his values:

“My first obligation always was to the kids whose care and education had been entrusted to me. If and when I had found out about the “stash””— he knew the word that we used so that may be a clue to the answer, “I would have consulted the parents and taken their advice as to how I would proceed”. HE WOULD HAVE CONSULTED WITH THE PARENTS! The kids weren’t his they were theirs. He used the words “entrusted, obligated, and honored” when describing his relationships with “his students”. THEY WERE NOT HIS…

Children belong to their parents. They do not belong to teachers or doctors or health care systems. Parents hold the lives of their children as a Sacred Trust. Sex Education, gender, and sexual identity (different issues), decisions all need to be made by parents, not agents of the state. Same with the baby Cyrus issue. Failure to thrive is a common problem and St. Luke’s handles these types of situations routinely and appropriately. The doctors and nurses and Cares Team and Child Protective Services (CPS) also serve first their patients, then their families. Parent’s rights need to be protected by the law and by the ethics exercised by practitioners. When they are not, they need to hold to account professionally, and the processes that lead to aberrant results need to be reconciled with a moral code and legal procedures that are consistent with the values of We the People.

The unusual part of the baby Cyrus case is that the mother was separated from the baby with the stated reason for admission as “failure to thrive”. The only nourishment that the baby could tolerate was mother’s breast milk. How familiar was the practitioner and the (CPS) social worker with the strong family support system already in place? This doesn’t make sense. Was there a personal “axe to grind” between practitioner and family”? I hope not. The complete medical record may help find out the answer to that question. Maybe not.

I am a big supporter of law enforcement, but it was obvious to me while watching the video of the incident on State Street, that the officers had not been trained in how to handle such a situation. That is not their fault but the fault of their superiors. The demeanor and manors of one of the officers was not a matter of training, but rather an issue of personality and disposition. That also needs to be addressed formally and informally—by his fellow officers. The 98% of great policemen don’t need to carry the reputation of one “bad apple” as a “cross to bear”. Clean the bad apple(s) out of your department including the administrator who put officers in a position they weren’t trained to handle.

In the end the issues in our schools and in the health care system comes down to culture. Where do rights come from and who do our children belong to.


Our Rights and the Responsibilities inherent in those Rights come from God—not government.

“Governments exist only to secure those Rights”. There is no Natural Right that government is charged with exercising.

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