Sunday, December 23, 2007

Some Thoughts on Society's Interest in Teen Parenting

I remembered hearing this story a few days ago, but haven't seen any of my regular blogs comment on it. It's an interesting story where a mother is receiving a two year conditional sentence, essentially for neglect that led to the death of her 12 year old diabetic daughter.

When I first heard the story, my impression was of a story similar to the Latimer case, and which the reporter essentially described as 'just' because the mother received a shorter sentence, owing to the stresses she was under. Events of the intervening days made it difficult to follow up right away, but I've got some questions and comments now.

First of all, I mischaracterized the story, now that I've read the CBC story on-line. It doesn't appear to be deliberate, which was my first impression. I thought that the stressed out mother had done something intentional to kill her daughter, and that the reporter was excusing her due to her life pressures. On that count, I am fine that a different sentence here has been awarded than that given to Robert Latimer.

However, there are other aspects also worth commenting on. I was glad to read the judge in the case argue in favour of the nuclear family, as a means of helping to prevent these kinds of situations. There are too many, often academics, who argue for the non-necessity of the intact mother & father led family, as though it serves no essential role. In fact, MANY of our social ills can be traced back to the general breakdown of our society's families. As a teacher, I can say that the vast majority of problem kids I encounter have significant familial breakdown. This kind of thing belongs so firmly in the category of 'common sense', that for now I decline to offer any other argumentation for it.

The part that I think policy-makers and politicians should scrutinize is the fact that this mother had born 4 children by the time she was 18. Some will read into this fact that she should have been aborting these children before birth, precisely in order to prevent these types of later pressures. As one who believes that every human life deserves to be protected from unnecessary death, I can never see this as the solution. I would like to know some further details: what factors helped enable this mother, when she was a teenager, to be sexually active and bear 4 children? Specifically, what type of (sex) education did she have? Did it emphasize abstinence, or did it recommend birth control usage? Did it make sexual relations appear value-neutral? Did she receive welfare to help pay her living costs while attempting to raise her children? What interventions were attempted (or not attempted) to help her place her children in adoptive families' homes, instead of what must have clearly been her dysfunctional home? The last point is a difficult one, because I don't usually believe the state has a place in overriding parental rights. Clearly, however, at some point some parents need outside support, or at least society at large needs to look out for its own interests, which includes giving her 4 children every opportunity not to turn into social deviants.

Perhaps needless to say, it also gives me pause as to how I address/deal with kids who fit similar profiles in my classes.

PS - One last thought. It appears that the cost of buying medical supplies for her daughter was a main contributing factor in her daughter's death. It reminds me of the 1991 Saskatchewan provincial election. I was volunteering with the pro-life side on a plebiscite asking about government funding for abortion. Our work, despite a fear and smear campaign by the pro-choicers, still led to a resounding win on that issue, with 63% voting against continued government funding of abortions. The newly-elected NDP government weaseled its way out of that one, arguing that abortion was 'medically necessary', despite it never being the case, especially in our modern society. At the same time, they justified not covering some diabetic expenses as having to draw the line somewhere when it comes to funding. Obviously, Alberta doesn't have a leftist government, but I find the same kind of reasoning taking hold here with regards to these medical funding issues. This kind of ideological basis for medical policy, instead of what should obviously be the reverse (ie, better funding for diabetic supplies, which are therapeutic, and no public funding for non-therapeutic abortion), is one major problem with our health care system.


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