Parents Do Not “Own” Their Children

Parents Do Not “Own” Their Children


By now pretty much everyone has heard about the controversy surrounding childhood immunizations, most particularly concerning an outbreak of measles that appears to be connected to a failure to immunize against the disease on the part of some parents. That much ignorance has been thrown into the marketplace of ideas regarding immunization is readily apparent as well. It is difficult to fathom the levels of stupidity and/or selfishness that would cause parents to fail to have children vaccinated against a disease as virulent as measles. But a full discussion of immunization is for another essay. Here I want to discuss one particular piece of vapidity on the topic that was spewed forth by Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky and probable 2016 presidential candidate.

Defending a parent’s “right” to deny their children immunizations, Senator Paul stated “the state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children”. No Senator, parents most certainly do not “own” their children. Parents have “custody” of their children. This gives them certain rights in making decisions regarding their offspring, but such rights have limits, and come nowhere close to rising to the level of “ownership”. Children are human beings, not chattel. Unlike in Biblical times, parents may not sell their children into slavery; children in our society may not be bought and sold at all. Some further examples:

  • Parents may choose to educate their children in the home, in public school or in private school, but they may not choose to not educate their children at all.
  • Parents may choose whether their children have string beans or peas as part of their dinner, but they may not choose to withhold food from them altogether.
  • Parents can decide whether to walk their child to the store or drive, but if they choose the car, the child (if 4 or under) must be in a car seat; no other choice is allowed.
  • On a cold winter day, parents can decide whether their child wears a blue coat or a red coat, but they may not send their child into freezing temperatures with no coat at all.
  • As much as a parent may savor the thought of an extra income in the house, they may not send their young child to a local factory to go to work.
  • And, most germane to the current discussion, parents may not choose to withhold essential medical care from their children.

In virtually every jurisdiction in the country, when a dispute arises concerning an action to take with regard to a child (many such disputes are between divorced or divorcing parents), the standard used by Courts to decide the issue is “the best interests of the child”. Questions of “ownership” do not enter into the matter. If the dispute was over a tractor, a Court would look to determine who has legal ownership of the tractor and whoever does could do what they want with it; the “best interests of the tractor” would be irrelevant. The true owner could sell it, lease it, or take it apart piece by piece and throw the pieces into the town dump, if that’s what they want. But children are not tractors. They are human beings, and human beings cannot be owned.

The state does not own the children within their jurisdiction (on that point, at least, Senator Paul is correct). But then, neither do parents. Parents have custody of their children and the state has a vested interest to ensure that the children within its jurisdiction are not neglected or abused, and if that happens, the state can enforce its vested interest by removing the child from its parents’ custody. I would like to think that a United States Senator would know this, especially one who has designs on the White House.


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